Feticide is the intentional destruction of a fetus. Loss of a fetus due to natural causes, such as miscarriage, is not grouped under this label, but if a mother is subjected to violence that causes a miscarriage, this can be considered feticide or, more accurately, fetal homicide. Some medical procedures, such as selective reduction in a multifetus pregnancy or certain types of abortion, involve killing the fetus within the womb. Some areas consider abortion feticide in all instances, while others do not, but in areas where the act being performed on the mother is legal, no doctor can be charged with a crime for acts performed on the child. Although it is appropriate to name any act that causes the death of a fetus a form of feticide, this term is typically reserved for instances where another more precise term, such as abortion, would be inappropriate.
One of the ways in which the concept of feticide is used is to bring perpetrators of violent acts who end the potential life of a fetus to justice. There are many instances in which collateral fetal homicide, in which the fetus was not the target or possibly even known to the perpetrator, can be used to make a criminal's punishment more aggressive. Of particular note is when purposefully inducing miscarriage in a woman against her will is not only an assault against the mother, but may also be considered murder of the fetus. Even in areas that do not recognize fetal homicide, perpetrators of this type of act are likely to be treated harshly given that the concept of fetal homicide is not dependent on laws.
In some kinds of abortions, feticide may be necessary for the doctor's legal safety. If the fetus is born alive, the doctor may be vulnerable to a malpractice suit. As such, the fetus is usually killed within the womb using an injection or by cutting the umbilical cord. After the fetus is dead, it softens and becomes easier to remove. Occasionally, termination of one or more fetuses is necessary for the survival of the rest of the embryos, but this is often a traumatic experience for the expecting parents given that all the embryos are potentially viable.
Sometimes, early terminations of fetuses that have a certain quality in common are called feticides rather than abortions. For instance, female feticide refers to the practice of terminating a pregnancy because one does not want a female child. Likewise, the termination of a fetus that is known to have a birth defect may also be referred to in this way, although this is generally considered more acceptable.
Whenever a fetus is terminated, no matter the cause, the act can be called feticide. It does, however, have a negative connotation in most instances. As there are a variety of technical terms available for the ways in which the fetus may be medically terminated, use of this term is usually reserved for acts that are viewed as morally or legally wrong.