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Accepted Paper:

From “anatomic-pathological waste” to “human remains” - on the pursuit of the right to bury dead fetuses in the Czech Republic  
Marie Hintnausová (Charles University in Prague)

Paper short abstract:

A recent shift in Czech law enabled burying human fetuses of any gestational age, granting them status of “human remains”. Whereas it extends bereavement opportunities for parents with prenatal loss, it also produces controversies, as exposed in my ethnographic research of Czech contexts of prenatal loss.

Paper long abstract:

Recent amendment of the Czech Act on burial services (ratified 2017) allowed arranging funerals to dead human embryos, fetuses or stillborn babies of any gestational age. This shift was largely pursued by civic initiatives which demanded to rectify situations, in which ‘bodies’ of miscarried fetuses or stillborn babies could not have been released for funeral because of their legal status of ‘medical waste’ that had to be disposed of lawfully.

Ethnographic research I conducted in 2021 among Czech middle-class women who experienced prenatal or perinatal loss revealed how this legal shift impacted their bereavement trajectories and healthcare services they received. The research also documented how prenatal death started to emerge gradually in public spaces - whereas in the form of material sites of commemoration or virtual space of verbal or visual commemoration and aestheticization of prenatal/perinatal loss. Materialization of the prenatal death served as both an argument for and a proof of relevance and gravity of such a loss.

Although fetal funerals or attending public memorials for the unborn is not a first choice for every bereaved parent, the idea of fetal “rights to be buried” is becoming more and more acceptable and feasible among the Czech public. In this paper, I will present the legal transition of fetuses from “anatomic-pathological waste” to “human remains” and discuss controversies surrounding this shift that kept emerging within my ethnographic research of Czech contexts of prenatal and perinatal loss.

Panel P179b
Afterlife counts: the economics and materiality of funerals and dealing with death [AGENET]
  Session 1 Wednesday 27 July, 2022, -