Introduction: Issues of disposal of fetal remains and related parental distress do not concern only the present. This contribution aims at offering a glimpse of what grieving management concerning perinatal death must have been in ancient times. The discussion of the topic of death and treatment of perinatal remains is based on historical, anthropological, and bioethical reasoning, in a dialogue that contributes to the current debate on fetal personhood. Methods: We have considered written and archaeological sources to investigate the response of past societies to perinatal death, in parallel with today's bioethical and legislative issues on fetal identity. Results: From historical evidence and archaeological findings, it emerges that lay community compassion and mercy often far exceeded the Church’s norms, which for centuries have denied the burial of fetuses and stillborn infants in consecrated cemeteries. Over the centuries, the practices implemented by people have led to a theoretical reflection on the dignity to be recognized to infants. Conclusions: This contribution highlighted how issues about the treatment and burial of infants have interrogated women and men over the centuries. In the past, the development of rituals, even far from ecclesiastical norms, allowed people to endure mourning for the death of their children. Recent legislative initiatives by some States on the burial of embryos and fetuses within cemeteries have reopened the long-standing debate on the value to be attributed to the life of the fetus. The challenge of reaching an agreement on ethically controversial questions gives vigor to the research for strategies capable of settling different needs: the respect for the choice of women, the need to identify forms of protection of human life after death, the development by the community of rites capable of welcoming and accompanying parental mourning.
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