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MATERNAL–FETAL CONFLICTS: Ethical and Legal Implications for Nurse-Midwives


  • Nancy M. P. King JD

    Assistant Professor, Corresponding authorSearch for more papers by this author
    • Nancy M. P. King, JD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Social Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill. She teaches ethics and law to medical students and other health professionals, and has a special interest in decision-making issues.

Department of Social Medicine, Wing D, CB# 7240, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7240.


The problem of maternal–fetal conflict presents both ethical and legal challenges to birth attendants as well as to policymakers. This essay suggests that a crisis intervention approach to such conflicts fosters an adversarial view of the relationship between the pregnant woman and her fetus, which can be divisive and counterproductive. A better approach to maternal–fetal conflicts emphasizes mutually held goals rather than countervailing rights and uses the doctrine of informed consent to enhance the pregnant woman's ability to make responsible choices for both herself and her fetus. Nonphysician birth attendants can take a leading role by employing client-centered professional values to develop and extend this cooperative approach to maternal–fetal conflicts.