Who are we before birth? – Dr Roger Bessis

Publié le 31 Jul, 2007

The disrupted reproduction


Before, all seemed to be simple: reproduction was the result of sexuality and the foetus developed in the mysterious maternal womb. Breaking with age-old unknown and fatalism, today, foetal medicine allows knowing all the details about intrauterine period, detecting early development disorders and sometimes to remedy. The changes around reproduction make raise thousand medical, legal, ethical and social questions which require coherent choices. Faced with the new situations the foetus will experience, Doctor Roger Bessis, one of the pioneers of ultrasound and one of the influential figures of foetal medicine, emergently asks for a status to go beyond the opposition between thing and person.


Individualised foetus


The doctor can intervene on the foetus to care it, eliminate it or choose among others an embryo free from a given disease (preimplantation diagnosis). The foetus can also be the instrument of a project which does not concern it (when it does not generate its destruction), when it deals with using its cells or its organs in a therapeutic purpose for the benefit of another. Now it can be detached from its reference to sexuality of the parental couple or even from the maternal uterus. If it is impossible to predict the use our descendants will do with the artificial uterus or whether this one will disrupt effectively the relations between men and women, on the other hand the certainty of its appearance concretely questions the individualisation of the foetus.


A status for the foetus?


Between thing and person, Dr Bessis speaks in favour of a status of the foetus which would incite to search for alternatives to openly utilitarian conception techniques for the future (therapeutic cloning, “doctor” child, embryo bank…). According to Roger Bessis his clear distinction from the human person would allow resolving the non-sense of the penal inexistence of the foetus without questioning abortion.


About this issue, the author’s position is clear: the practice of an efficient foetal medicine is inseparable from the possibility of possibly interrupting pregnancy, until the day before birth for medical reason. Nevertheless, recognising a person status to the foetus would be considered as recognising it specific rights, possibly opposable to those of the mother, which would prohibit any abortion. 

It is time to get away from the double obscurantism of those who deny the evidence of the right to abortion in the name of the foetus and of those who deny the evidence of the foetus in the name of abortion”, concluded Roger Bessis. 

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