The Making of the New Patients

  • Irma van der Ploeg


To speak of fetuses and couples as patients may seem neither particularly surprising or consequential. After all, we all know that pregnant women carry fetuses in their wombs that may have something wrong with them. In such cases, it seems hardly strange to talk of these fetuses as little patients in the womb. Likewise, couples who, despite serious efforts, are unable to have children, have a problem that may lead them to seek medical help together. But everyone knows that fetuses grow inside women’s bodies, and it is women who will visit doctors, who ask for and are given advice, prescriptions and tests. Similarly, everyone knows that a couple consists of two individuals with separate bodies. They may have a problem as a couple, but the shared nature of their problem stems from their shared wish for a child and shared grief about its remaining unfulfilled. So, while it seems self-evident that fetuses and couples may have medical problems, to call them ‘patients’ is just a manner of speaking, not to be taken too literally. At any time it will be clear who the ‘real’ patients are. For all practical purposes, it would hardly seem to make any difference. However, Meerabeau, drawing on observations of 55 clinic sessions in three fertility clinics in the United Kingdom, concluded: “Doctors are not accustomed to treating more than one patient simultaneously, and the use of the concept ‘couple’ in subfertility treatment presupposes a commonality of aims which may not exist. ... There are attempts to construct the fertility problem as a joint endeavor, but these tend to founder on the biological imbalance in the situation.”131 Moreover, This view about the innocence and inconsequentiality of language and conceptualizations relies on the idea that the relation between language and reality is one in which language refers to an independent reality. This view implies that changes in vocabulary have no consequence for the reality described, since language only passively “mirrors” this reality. In this work I rely on a theory of language that accords a much more active role to language in the constitution of the realities we inhabit.132


Fallopian Tube Sperm Cell Female Body Male Infertility Male Body 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Irma van der Ploeg
    • 1
  1. 1.Erasmus UniversityRotterdamThe Netherlands

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