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Foeticide (British English), or feticide (American and Canadian English), is the act of killing a fetus, or causing an abortion.[1]


Foeticide derives from two constituent Latin roots. Foetus, meaning child, is an alternate form of fetus coming from the writings of Isidorus, who preferred oe due to its association with foveo "I cherish" as opposed to feo "I beget".[2] Foetus is compounded with the suffix -cide, from caedere, "to cut down, to kill." Also see homicide, genocide, infanticide, matricide, and regicide.

Fetal homicide

Laws in the United States

Fetal homicide laws in the United States
  "Homicide" or "murder".
  Other crime against fetus.
  Depends on age of fetus.
  Assaulting mother.
  No law on feticide.

In the U.S., most crimes of violence are covered by state law, not federal law. 38 states currently recognize the unborn child (the term usually used) or fetus as a homicide victim, and 23 of those states apply this principle throughout the period of pre-natal development.[3] These laws do not apply to legally induced abortions. Federal and state courts have consistently held that these laws do not contradict the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings on abortion.

In 2004, Congress enacted, and President Bush signed, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which recognizes the "child in utero" as a legal victim if he or she is injured or killed during the commission of any of the 68 existing federal crimes of violence. These crimes include some acts that are federal crimes no matter where they occur (e.g., certain acts of terrorism), crimes in federal jurisdictions, crimes within the military system, crimes involving certain federal officials, and other special cases. The law defines "child in utero" as "a member of the species Homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb." This federal law (as well as many similar state laws, such as the one in California), does not require any proof that the person charged with the crime actually knew the woman was pregnant when the crime was committed.[4]

Of the 38[3][5] states that recognize fetal homicide, approximately two-thirds apply the principle throughout the period of pre-natal development, while one-third establish protection at some later stage, which varies from state to state. For example, California treats the killing of a fetus as homicide, but does not treat the killing of an embryo (prior to approximately eight weeks) as homicide, by construction of the California Supreme Court.[6] Some other states do not consider the killing of a fetus to be homicide until the fetus has reached quickening or viability.[7]

Unlawful abortion may be considered "foeticide".[8]

Fetal homicide laws have also been used to prosecute women for recklessly causing stillbirths, such as in the cases of Rennie Gibbs, Bei Bei Shuai, and Purvi Patel. Gibbs was charged with murder in Mississippi in 2006 for having a stillborn daughter while addicted to cocaine. Gibbs is the first woman in Mississippi to be charged with murder relating to the loss of her unborn baby.[5] The judge in that case ruled that the charges be dismissed.[9] In 2011 Shuai was charged by Indiana authorities with murder and foeticide after her suicide attempt resulted in the death of the child she was pregnant with. Shuai's case was the first in the history of Indiana in which a woman was prosecuted for murder for a suicide attempt while pregnant.[10] In 2013 Shuai pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal recklessness and was released, having been sentenced to time served. In 2015 Purvi Patel became the first woman in the United States to be charged, convicted, and sentenced on a foeticide charge.[11] However, her conviction was later overturned, and she was resentenced to time served for a lesser charge.[12] In 2018 in Colorado, a foeticide happed when Chris Watts was arrested and charged after he murdered his wife, Shanann with her unborn son, Nico and his two daughters, Bella and Celeste.

Child destruction

In English law, "child destruction" is the crime of killing a fetus "capable of being born alive", before it has "a separate existence".[13] The Crimes Act 1958 defined "capable of being born alive" as 28 weeks' gestation, later reduced to 24 weeks.[13] The 1990 Amendment to the Abortion Act 1967 means a medical practitioner cannot be guilty of the crime.[13]

The charge of child destruction is rare.[14] A woman who had an unsafe abortion while 7½ months pregnant was given a suspended sentence of 12 months in 2007;[15] the Crown Prosecution Service was unaware of any similar conviction.[14]

Use during legal abortion

A sign in an Indian hospital stating that prenatal sex determination is a crime. The concern is that it will lead to female foeticide.

In medical use, the word "foeticide" is used simply to mean causing the death of the fetus, usually prior to some form of abortion. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommends foeticide be performed "before medical abortion after 21 weeks and 6 days of gestation to ensure that there is no risk of a live birth".[16] In abortions after 20 weeks, an injection of digoxin or potassium chloride into the fetal heart to stop the fetal heart can be used to achieve foeticide.[17][18][19][20][21] In the United States, the Supreme Court has ruled that a legal ban on intact dilation and extraction procedures does not apply if foeticide is completed before surgery starts.[21]

Injecting potassium chloride into the heart of a fetus causes immediate asystole, but depending on the method used, digoxin may fail to induce fetal demise in some cases (up to 5% if injected into the fetus and up to a third if injected into the amniotic sac)[22] even though it is the preferred drug in many clinics. Digoxin is preferred because it is technically difficult to inject KCl into the heart or umbilical cord.[23]

The most common method of selective reduction--a procedure to reduce the number of fetuses in a multifetus pregnancy--is foeticide via a chemical injection into the selected fetus or fetuses. The reduction procedure is usually performed during the first trimester of pregnancy.[24] It often follows detection of a congenital defect in the selected fetus or fetuses, but can also reduce the risks of carrying more than three fetuses to term.[25]

See also


  1. ^ Definitions of feticide from dictionary.com.
  2. ^ Boyd, J. D.; Hamilton, W. J. (1967-02-18). "Foetus--or Fetus?". British Medical Journal. 1 (5537): 425. doi:10.1136/bmj.1.5537.425. PMC 1841520.
  3. ^ a b Fetal Homicide Laws. National Conference of State Legislatures, March 2015
  4. ^ "What the California Fetal Homicide Law Does and Doesn't Cover". 5 June 2015.
  5. ^ a b Pilkington, Ed (June 24, 2011). "Outcry in America as pregnant women who lose babies face murder charges". The Guardian.
  6. ^ People v. Davis, 7 Cal.4th 797, 30 Cal.Rptr.2d 50, 872 P.2d 591 (Calif. 1994).
  7. ^ Hedden, Andrew. When is the Death of a Fetus a Homicide? Archived 2011-07-25 at the Wayback Machine (Center for Homicide Research 2007).
  8. ^ See, e.g., Women's Medical Professional Corporation v. Taft (6th Cir. 2003).
  9. ^ Fowler, Sarah (April 3, 2014). "Judge dismisses Rennie Gibbs' depraved heart murder case". The Dispatch (April 3, 2014). The Commercial Dispatch Publishing Company. Retrieved 2015.
  10. ^ Pilkington, Ed (15 July 2012). "Indiana prosecutor accused of silencing Chinese woman on murder charge". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012.
  11. ^ NBC News (2015-03-31). "First woman in US sentenced for killing a fetus". Raleigh, Durham, Fayetteville: WNCN. Archived from the original on 2015-04-15. Retrieved .
  12. ^ "Judge says Purvi Patel should be freed immediately after feticide conviction overturned". The Guardian. Associated Press. 2016-09-01. Retrieved .
  13. ^ a b c Knight, Bernard (1998). Lawyers guide to forensic medicine (2nd ed.). Routledge. p. 70. ISBN 1-85941-159-2.
  14. ^ a b "Child destruction: charge is rarely used". Daily Telegraph. 27 May 2007. Retrieved .
  15. ^ Britten, Nick (27 May 2007). "Jury convicts mother who destroyed foetus". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved .
  16. ^ "3270 RCOG Abortion guideline.qxd" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-05-29. Retrieved .
  17. ^ Vause, S; Sands, J; Johnston, TA; Russell, S; Rimmer, S (May 2002). "Could some fetocides be avoided by more prompt referral after diagnosis of fetal abnormality?". J Obstet Gynaecol. 22 (3): 243-5. doi:10.1080/01443610220130490. PMID 12521492. S2CID 41055699.
  18. ^ Dommergues, M; Cahen, F; Garel, M; Mahieu-Caputo, D; Dumez, Y (2003). "Feticide during second- and third-trimester termination of pregnancy: opinions of health care professionals". Fetal Diagn Ther. 18 (2): 91-7. doi:10.1159/000068068. PMID 12576743. S2CID 43211417.
  19. ^ Bhide, A; Sairam, S; Hollis, B; Thilaganathan, B (Sep 2002). "Comparison of feticide carried out by cordocentesis versus cardiac puncture". Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 20 (3): 230-2. doi:10.1046/j.1469-0705.2002.00797.x. PMID 12230443. S2CID 21824579.
  20. ^ Senat, MV; Fischer, C; Bernard, JP; Ville, Y (Mar 2003). "The use of lidocaine for fetocide in late termination of pregnancy". BJOG. 110 (3): 296-300. doi:10.1016/s1470-0328(02)02217-6. PMID 12628271.
  21. ^ a b Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. ____ (2007). Findlaw.com. Retrieved 24 April 2007.
  22. ^ Hammond, Cassing (April 2009). "Recent advances in second-trimester abortion: an evidence-based review". American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 200 (4): 347-356. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2008.11.016. PMID 19318143. Retrieved 2015. Furthermore, although intracardiac KCl elicits immediate fetal asystole, intrafetal digoxin may fail to effect demise in up to 5% of cases whereas intraamniotic digoxin may fail to cause demise in up to one third of cases.
  23. ^ Paul (editor); Lichtenberg (editor); Borgatta (editor); Grimes (editor); Stubblefield (editor); Creinin (editor) (2011). "First-trimester aspiration abortion". Management of Unintended and Abnormal Pregnancy: Comprehensive Abortion Care. John Wiley & Sons. p. 10. ISBN 978-1444358476. Intra-amniotic or intrafetal digoxin is likely to be the procedure of choice in most settings, as funic or intracardiac KCl administration is technically much more difficult.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  24. ^ Komaroff, Anthony (1999). Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide. Simon and Schuster. p. 913. ISBN 0-684-84703-5. Selective reduction is usually performed during the first trimester...
  25. ^ See, e.g. Berkowitz, Richard; et al. (1993). "First-Trimester Transabdominal Multifetal Pregnancy Reduction: A Report of Two Hundred Completed Cases". American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. 169 (1): 17-21. doi:10.1016/0002-9378(93)90124-2. PMID 8333448. "All of the procedures were performed in the first trimester by the transabdominal injection of potassium chloride into the thoraces of those fetuses that underwent feticide."

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