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Culpability and blame after pregnancy loss
  1. B Hale
  1. Correspondence to:
 B Hale
 Philosophy Department, Campus Box 232, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0232, USA; bhale{at}


The problem of feeling guilty about a pregnancy loss is suggested to be primarily a moral matter and not a medical or psychological one. Two standard approaches to women who blame themselves for a loss are first introduced, characterised as either psychologistic or deterministic. Both these approaches are shown to underdetermine the autonomy of the mother by depending on the notion that the mother is not culpable for the loss if she “could not have acted otherwise”. The inability to act otherwise is explained as not being as strong a determinant of culpability as it may seem at first. Instead, people’s culpability for a bad turn of events implies strongly that they have acted for the wrong reasons, which is probably not true in the case of women who have experienced a loss of pregnancy. The practical conclusion of this paper is that women who feel a sense of guilt in the wake of their loss have a good reason to reject both the psychologistic and the deterministic approaches to their guilt—that they are justified in feeling upset about what has gone wrong, even responsible for the life of the child, but are not culpable for the unfortunate turn of events.

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  • Competing interests: None.

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