The Intensive Medical Care of Sick, Impaired, and Preterm Newborns in Israel and the Production of Vulnerable Neonatal Subjectivities

Abstract

Following reduction in mortality rates of term and preterm babies hospitalized in NICUs, neonataology refocused its concerns on the survivors’ elevated risks of long-term health and developmental problems, thus turning the “intact survival” of hospitalized newborns into an equivalently desired moral and professional goal as their “survival.” Based on ethnographic observations in an Israeli NICU (“pagia”), I suggest that the new moral practice has bearings on the construction of neonatal subjectivities. According to Jewish and Israeli laws, personhood is conferred on at birth. However, my findings indicate that in practice the question of “quality of life” often appears to be a stronger consideration than legal personhood when withdrawal of intensive therapies is discussed in the nursery. Consequently, the significance of the moment of birth to the construction of subjectivity is obscured. The construction of subjectivity as a progressively developed and irreversible category is challenged, and it becomes vulnerable.