Amicus lector
When a baby is a fetus

Some readers and commenters have gotten prickly about our use of the phrase “term fetus” to describe the tiny people whose remains were discovered outside a shelter belt in rural Deuel County on Nov. 5.

Today is the day we learned that the discovery has become a homicide investigation.

Here’s the thing: According to the Attorney General, anthropological testing showed that the two “fetuses” were 40 weeks along at the time of their death.

That means the children could have lived outside their mother’s womb. Statistically, 40 weeks is the safest gestation week for a baby to be born.

Even so, the Attorney General’s release described them as “term fetuses,” and we did, too.

By using that terminology, we did not intend to demean the humanity of the infants, we were simply trying to be accurate by using the terminology provided to us by the most direct source available.

Now, we could have punted on the issue to avoid cries of insensitivity. KELO handled it by saying “fetus” the first time and referring to the victims as “babies” thereafter. That’s fine, on one level. They are babies, if by “babies” you mean full-grown and carried to term.

If they died inside the womb, however, they are fetuses, and that matters.

A child is a fetus until it’s born, medically-speaking. That’s an important distinction in a story about the discovery of remains in a criminal investigation, particularly one where criminal charges might emerge. The killing an unborn child is fetal homicide. Killing a baby that’s been born is murder.

If the story were about a mother mourning a stillborn child, the word “fetus” wouldn’t be necessary. I don’t know any parents who referred to their unborn as a fetus during pregnancy. I certainly didn’t call my daughter a fetus.

Again, the use of the term is not and was not meant as a diminution of the worth of these two human beings. This story is disturbing and tragic regardless of the terminology.

  1. jhult posted this
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