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Death in Scotland

Chapters From the Twelfth Century to the Twenty-First


Peter C. Jupp and Hilary J. Grainger

For the past twenty years, Scottish death culture has emerged as a focus of scholars drawn from a wide variety of disciplines. Death comes to us all but too often we treat it as a private or personal matter. The former taboo about death is slowly lifting and contemporary research is playing an increasing part. Accordingly, the fifteen essays gathered in this book probe the multi-facetted role of death in Scottish history and culture. They explore personal fears of death, anxieties about Predestination, prayers for the dead and the appeal of Spiritualism. They analyse the public face of death in law, economics and medicine: changes in capital punishment, funeral poverty, the teaching of anatomy and prevention of stillbirths. Within the worlds of religion and ritual, they consider the making of saints, burial practice following the Scottish Reformation and the tradition of keening within the Gáidhealtachd. With an Introduction by Professor Jane Dawson, these essays by specialists in the field not only highlight the richness of the primary sources for studying death in Scotland but reveal how death studies identify key features of Scottish life and society across ten centuries.

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12 Deadbirth or Stillbirth? Medical and Legislative Implications in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries (Maelle Duchemin-Pelletier)


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12 Deadbirth or Stillbirth? Medical and Legislative Implications in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries


The term ‘dead-born’ was first defined in the fourteenth century as a baby born with no signs of life. From the eighteenth century, a different term appeared, ‘still-born’, which described a baby born with a heartbeat, but making no effort to move or breathe. This distinction was important given the interest in resuscitation within the medical profession which began in the mid-nineteenth century as a way of helping babies ‘born still’ transitioning to being ‘live born’. The differentiation between the two terms, however, was never legally recognised and, when legislation for registration of all births was introduced, ‘stillbirth’ was only used to describe babies with no signs of life. This chapter considers the history of these two definitions, the issues behind their disparity, and the evolution of resuscitation in ‘apparently stillborn’ babies. This chapter focuses particularly on the role of Scottish and Scottish-trained medical practitioners in relation to the medical and legal implications around these two definitions.


This chapter will explore the reasons why the Scottish, and more broadly British and international, medical community and policymakers argued for a distinction between the terms ‘deadbirth’ and ‘stillbirth’ in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As Robert Woods stresses in his book Death before birth: fetal health and mortality in historical perspective, the definition of ‘stillbirth’ and ‘deadbirth’...

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