The Unborn Human

Deborah Lupton (Editor)

Research output: Book/ReportAnthologypeer-review


Unborn human organisms – embryos and foetuses – experience an unprecedented level of discursive prominence in the contemporary era. Debates about the moral status of the unborn, about their claims to personhood and whether they should be treated as full human subjects, have been continuing for a long time, particularly in areas related to religious philosophy, bioethics and abortion politics. Over the past half-century, however, these debates have become more diversified, intense and complex in response to a number of social, technological and economic changes. More so than at any other time in human history, embryos and foetuses are represented in public forums as beautiful, precious, vulnerable creatures that require the utmost levels of protection. They are commonly positioned as already fully human, indeed as already infants, and hence as deserving of the rights and privileges accorded the infant.

Paradoxically, in other contexts embryos and foetuses have become increasingly commodified and dehumanised. In the marketplaces of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) services, reproductive tourism, commercial pregnancy surrogacy, gamete donation and human embryonic stem cell (hESC) science and regenerative medicine, embryos and foetuses are commonly configured and treated as valuable entities because of their monetary value. In some countries women are now able to earn significant sums of money by acting as pregnancy surrogates or donating their ova to create embryos for other people. The stem cell industry makes use of human embryos in its experimental research, transforming them into clinical material to create stem cell lines as part of therapeutic treatments. These developments have required many jurisdictions to construct definitions around unborn entities and to legislate ways in which such entities may be used.

This Living Book about Life covers many of these facets of the unborn human. By including academic articles and material from social, news and other digital media sites spanning historical medical, contemporary medical, sociocultural, bioethical and legal perspectives, as well as links to websites offering visual imagery of the unborn, the book demonstrates the various and diverse contexts in which knowledges, concepts, objects and practices work together to configure embryos and foetuses.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherOpen Humanities Press
Number of pages53
ISBN (Print)9781607853305
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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