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Do fetuses that die in utero (stillbirths) decompose in the same manner if the mother...

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manewell | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 26, 2009 at 4:46 AM via web

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Do fetuses that die in utero (stillbirths) decompose in the same manner if the mother is also dead? 

I can find details about the maceration process of stillborns, which allow the approximate date of death to be determined by the stage of maceration, but can't find anything that definitively states that if the mother is dead, the same stages of maceration will occur if the dead baby remains in the mother after her death and for whatever reason, coffin birth does not occur. 

This is necessary to know in a criminal case involving the murder of a pregnant woman.  We must determine if the fetus died in utero and remained in utero after the death, or was removed prior to the mother's death or very soon after.  Both the mother and baby were alleged to have been in a body of water for nearly 4 months, and the baby only separated a few days before being found.  The baby is macerated with liquification of internal organs, but no mummification.

I would very much like to establish communication with someone with knowledge about the decomposition process of a dead fetus in a dead mother. 

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cambtone | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted May 28, 2009 at 3:53 AM (Answer #1)

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Mummification would be the normal result, as the fetus would be deprived of oxygen.  However, the exposure to water would have caused ascending infections to occur, and the subsequent decomposition of the fetus.  This would have affected the placenta, and the fetus would have become separated from the mother.  The accumulation of gases in the uterus may have led to the fetus being expelled, especially after some mechanical manipulation.

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cheekymarls | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 10, 2010 at 5:35 PM (Answer #2)

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Omg I have been after the same answers myself. I find it hard to believe that the fetus floated for two days or so before being washed ashore and remaining intact. I dont think the mother and baby were in the water the whole time. The only explanations I have come across is that the mother and fetus were left in that lake they mentioned in this case. This lake is very cold which would have acted like a freezer. She had barnacles on her body. You cant get barnacles in the water the dead mother was found in.

I really would love to discuss this with you or anyone else. I cannot believe that this 4 month was not the defendants main defense in this case.


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