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Accepted Paper:

The expansion and valuing of foetal measurements in obstetric ultrasound  
Niamh Stephenson (University of New South Wales) Catherine Mills (Monash University) Kim McLeod

Paper short abstract:

The expansion of obstetric ultrasound foregrounds the complexities of practioners’ roles. They both strive to facilitate “women’s choice” and, as part of research endeavour into foetal development, they are the gateway to the “populations” required to establish the meaning of new measurements.

Paper long abstract:

The question of bio-subjectivity is particularly fraught when we consider foetal trajectories. Reproductive technologies such as obstetric ultrasound simultaneously play a role in the "engendering" (Boltanski, 2013) of foetuses into personhood, and in prospective parents' decisions to terminate. Currently, the expansion of ultrasound is being fuelled by the introduction of non-invasive prenatal testing. More foetal anatomy is being measured, and at an earlier gestation. Efforts are being made to link these measurements with a longer list of potential pregnancy outcomes - and to solidify the role of ultrasound in antenatal care. Drawing on interviews and observation in and around ultrasound clinics, this paper examines how increased scanning turns more aspects of foetal anatomy into "enumerated entities" (Verran, 2011). The value of these entities appears naturalised not only through the capacity to measure them but through a prior process of being ordered into more or less desirable or manageable pregnancy outcomes. We examine how practioners' valuation practices entail positioning pregnant women in two ways: as members of the population needed to develop useful screening tools whose future benefits can be collectively deemed to outweigh the costs; and as autonomous patients responsible for decisions about foetal futures. Both modes of positioning obscure the extent to which the valuing of foetal measurements is an interpretative act. We consider some direct challenges to this obfuscation, challenges entailed in the ways that the ultrasounds' expansion is being negotiated by and between some professionals.

Panel T089
  Session 1 Saturday 3 September, 2016, -