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MI Winter Lecture - Respect, Ritual, Recognition: Beyond the Sensitive Disposal of Pregnancy Remains - Sheelagh McGuinness



Room G03, Bayes Centre
The University of Edinburgh
47 Potterrow


Wed 19 February 2020

This year’s MI Winter Lecture will be given by Sheelagh McGuinness, Reader in Law at the University of Bristol Law School.

Respect, Ritual, Recognition: Beyond the Sensitive Disposal of Pregnancy Remains

Decades of historical, anthropological, and legal research have demonstrated that the ontological status of the foetus is not only extremely complex, it is also charged with a powerful potential that impacts the way society deals with it. The social life of the living foetus is well documented, unlike the social life of the dead foetus. While a live foetus often carries with it an imagined future, a foetus that is no longer alive invokes a much more complicated landscape of emotions, understandings of fairness and naturalness, and symbolic values associated with reproduction and human life. I explore the strange space that the foetus occupies in the social imaginary and the tensions existing between its legal status and social practices around dead foetuses. By looking at the limits of what the law is able to frame, it is possible to bring forth the ambivalence inhering in foetal status and the attempts at harnessing it into certainty through formal practices, such as funeral arrangements.


Dr Sheelagh McGuinness is Reader in Law at the University of Bristol Law School, where she is Co-Director of the Centre for Health, Law, and Society. She has wide-ranging research and teaching interests in health law and policy, particularly regarding the regulation of reproduction. Sheelagh has published across these areas, including in Law, Ethics, and Healthcare journals, and was recently a co-investigator on an ESRC-funded projected entitled “Death before Birth: Understanding, informing and supporting the choices made by people who have experienced miscarriage, termination, and stillbirth”. Sheelagh's educational roles include being coordinator on the “Health Law and the Body” unit of the University of Bristol's LLM in Health, Law, and Society. She is currently being a member of the BPAS Board of Trustees and the Irish National Screening Advisory Committee.

This event is free and open to all but registration is required (link below).

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