Technologies of Death and Dying at the Beginning of Life
Today, technological developments in relation to prenatal care, childbirth, and neonatal care are changing how the deaths of fetuses and infants take place and how their dead bodies are managed and cared for until their disposal or burial. An example is the implementation of prenatal screening, which became a nationwide offer to all pregnant Danish women in 2004. Since then, an increasing number of women have obtained abortions due to a diagnosis of life-threatening conditions or disabilities. These late-term abortions are today, in Denmark, often conceived as infant deaths. As much as technologies, such as assisted reproductive technologies, are remaking life, technologies such as abortion, are remaking death. However, how different technologies influence the remaking of death is an understudied field.
The research program, Technologies of Death and Dying at the Beginning of Life, draws on Stine W. Adrian’s (PI) extensive techno-anthropological research experiences studying the technologies of life. In Techologies of Death and Dying at the Beginning of Life, this agenda is turned around, now focusing on technologies of death by asking: How does technology remake death and dying at the beginning of life?
Combining ethnographic and legal methods, we will research critical cases of death at the beginning of life including late-term abortions and the deaths of infants suffering from severe congenital defects. In Technologies of Death and Dying at the Beginning of Life, we perceive technologies as socio-technical, meaning that they are always entangled with culture and society. By studying technologies remaking death, we also study how norms regarding a life worth living, and affects, such as grieving, are part of the technological practices unfolding and changing at the intersection of legal regulation, medical practices, and the everyday lives of women and men having experienced the death of a fetus or an infant.
The project aims to make a series of contributions. It will set a new research agenda contributing to reproductive and death studies with new humanities perspectives. It aims to develop ethnographically sensitive reconceptualizations of the emergence, management, and the experience of living with death and dying at the beginning of life when technologies are used. This contribution will draw on a combination of agential realism, Haraway's reconfiguration of technologies, and theories focusing on the governing of life and death conceptualized as bio- politics or necropolitics. Finally, by communicating our findings to health practitioners, we aim to make a difference for those experiencing the loss of an infant or the termination of a pregnancy. We will also improve reproductive rights by bringing transparency to how applications on late-term abortions are evaluated by abortion councils and how decisions regarding abortion unfold in practice. Moreover, we aim to contribute to public discussions in the media by challenging the taboos and stigmatization regarding infant death and late abortion.