Fetal Humans

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 02/08/2012

I’ve been thinking of how unhelpful the term “human fetus” is. It reverses our usual grammatical way of speaking about a stage of development, so it perpetuates fuzzy ideas about the identity of the unborn.

We say “adult human,” not “human adult,” because that is the clearest way to speak. Saying “human adult,” “dog adult,” “horse adult,” etc. would make it sound as if an “adult” is a type of creature in and of itself, with the qualifier telling us if it happens to have human qualities, or dog qualities, etc. No, the type of being is “human,” and the qualifier is “adult.”

We ought to also say “fetal human.” It puts the emphasis in the right place and makes it clear to the listener that “fetal” is a stage of development, not a kind of being.

The word “fetus” has been used to obfuscate the identity of the unborn for too long, and even we pro-lifers can’t help but be affected by it. Just think of both terms and you’ll see what I mean. Don’t you feel more of an immediate kinship with a “fetal human” than a “human fetus”? Don't you feel more protective of a fetal human? This is not a language trick, it’s a more consistent use of grammar and a long-overdue clarification.