The fetus isn’t a parasite. Stop pathologizing pregnancy.
The following post is recreated from a Twitter thread by Dr. Calum Miller.
This viral video about fetuses being parasites is honestly the perfect example of what happens when you give a first year undergrad a small bit of technical knowledge and a camera. (I’m not saying she is a first year undergrad – just that she comes across like one.)
1) She seems to think there is an interesting difference between the ‘body knowing its pregnant’ and the fetus ‘tricking’ the body into knowing that its there through hCG. Obviously the only way the body could know that it is pregnant is by some sort of signal from the fetus. To try and distinguish these is unintelligible. This is like saying that your body doesn’t know that it is cold: the cold forces your body to warm up. They are one and the same thing.
2) She seems to suggest that the outer layer of the zygote/embryo preventing an immune response is a ‘trick’. But the immune system helps to clear the debris from any cell rupturing, including the mother’s cells. That doesn’t show the cell is an ‘invader’.
3) She seems to think it is interesting that parasites and fetuses occasionally use some similar mechanisms for evading an immune response. That is how evolution works. There are occasional similarities between how parasites and the mother’s cells evade immune responses too – but this is clearly irrelevant.
4) The final point about suppressor cells seems to undermine her argument. Suppressor cells do the same job for the mother’s cells, preventing them from being attacked – but we wouldn’t call it a ‘trick’ as if her cells are actually invaders.
5) She seems to think it is significant that the fetus makes the placenta and puts it into your body without you knowing. 99% of things in our body are done without us knowing, so this is obviously not significant in any way.
6) How does she think a baby could ever exist without, in her words, ‘tricking’ the mother? It has different genes because it is a different human being – obviously it has to avoid immune attacks (just as all cells within the mother do). To say that this is a ‘trick’ is just assuming from the outset that the baby doesn’t belong there. You could just as easily (in fact more so) interpret it as the clever mechanism nature has come up with to defend both a mother and her baby from autoimmunity. Calling it a trick is really just assuming the conclusion – that the fetus doesn’t belong there. But the falsehood of the conclusion is actually more obvious than its truth – obviously the fetus belongs there: that is how reproduction works and that is why any animals exist at all.
7) You could obviously portray the entire immune system as a kind of ‘trick’ if you really wanted: the whole immune system has developed mechanisms to make sure it only targets foreign things and not host cells. This isn’t a ‘trick’ in the sense that the host cells are actually foreign invaders; it’s just how the immune system had to evolve: it had to recognise host cells (and offspring), and attack other things. Obviously this doesn’t always work. To try and extract a narrative out of this is frankly completely bizarre.
8 ) Most of this seems to just boil down to the profoundly uninventive claim that babies are genetically distinct from their mothers and hence need biological mechanisms to evade the immune system. Well, obviously. But mum’s cells need some of those tricks as well!
9) This all just depends on the claim that the fetus is invading. But obviously this isn’t plausible – the fetus is there in its natural habitat (as we all once were) with no culpability and usually as a result of an action the mother took which she knew would result in that. It is like saying the person in the apartment above you invaded your apartment because you smashed your ceiling/their floor in. It’s basically just putting a moral spin onto some rudimentary biological facts and it is embarrassing.
10) While we’re here, did you know that, far from the baby typically harming her mother, mortality rates after abortion are way, way higher than after childbirth? See my prior writing here for more info.
And did you know that the baby produces stem cells which go round mum’s body healing her tissues, e.g. from heart attacks, strokes, liver damage, and more? One leading scholar concludes: “after the mother spends 9 months providing nutrients and an environment for optimal growth and development of the baby, the baby gives back cells with regenerative potential to the mother…it is the mother who benefits”.
Pregnancy is normal. It is healthy. It is beautiful. Let’s stop dehumanising women and children by pathologising it.
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