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The immune system, and why a fetus isn't really an individual


Abortion Debate

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  #1  
April 14th, 2009, 06:49 PM
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So it's pretty well known that when a woman gets pregnant she is immunosuppressed, particularly in cell-mediated immunity, and this is particularly important during pregnancy so the mother does not reject the fetus. It's an interesting concept, which gives another angle to the idea that the fetus is not somehow an individual while in the womb. In immunological studies, the fetus is considered a semiallogenic graft - meaning, a foreign tissue which is partly the mother's DNA; not an individual organism. An organism is capable of oxygenating blood, maintaining homeostasis, etc. by any definition. Check Merriam-Webster.

What do you think of this, and how do you think it relates to the abortion debate? By the semiallogenic graft definition, which is really what a fetus is in the biological sense, any laws which might be made concerning the restriction of abortion is very literally saying a part of a woman's body can be controlled.
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  #3  
April 14th, 2009, 08:58 PM
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Hmm, so would that mean that only some fetuses are individuals? Personally, I develop pre-eclampsia with each pregnancy. Though the cause of this is not known FOR SURE, it is thought that the body is trying to reject the "fetus" because it isnt recognizing it as part of me. This is how it has been explained to me multiple times by various doctors (all encouraging me to use a permanent BC method since this will likely happen every time and seems to get worse each time, potentially resulting in my own or the baby's death if a future pregnancy were to occur).
Reoccurring pre-eclampsia isnt EXTREMELY uncommon.. so there would be quite a few of us that this wouldnt apply to...whose bodies DO recognize the fetus as being "foreign" and not a part of our bodies.
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  #4  
April 15th, 2009, 12:18 PM
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Lacey, I think your body is just ahead of the game and realizes from the start that somethings "not right" and tries to stop it.



But to the OP, that's a very interesting concept. I don't quite know how it would fit into the debate arguement, but I'm interested to see what others have to say!
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  #5  
April 15th, 2009, 01:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mom2IrishTwins View Post
Hmm, so would that mean that only some fetuses are individuals? Personally, I develop pre-eclampsia with each pregnancy. Though the cause of this is not known FOR SURE, it is thought that the body is trying to reject the "fetus" because it isnt recognizing it as part of me. This is how it has been explained to me multiple times by various doctors (all encouraging me to use a permanent BC method since this will likely happen every time and seems to get worse each time, potentially resulting in my own or the baby's death if a future pregnancy were to occur).
Reoccurring pre-eclampsia isnt EXTREMELY uncommon.. so there would be quite a few of us that this wouldnt apply to...whose bodies DO recognize the fetus as being "foreign" and not a part of our bodies.
That's actually really common for the mother to reject the fetus, most people just don't know it - only something like 1/2 of pregnancies actually hold, a lot of people are pregnant and miscarry before they even know they're pregnant.
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  #6  
April 15th, 2009, 01:53 PM
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There could probably be a few explanations for what happened to you - there are multiple systems in place to make the mom not reject the fetus, and one of them could have broken down. The anatomical barrier (placenta), the suppressed immune system in the mother (which ironically works somehow so the mother is also protected from real foreign invaders), and the fact that the fetus doesn't express allogenic molecules which the body would have to fight.

Eventually the semiallogenic graft is rejected, and there you have birth.
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  #7  
April 15th, 2009, 02:48 PM
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Pre-eclampsia is not totally understood, right? I thought that the body rejects the baby explanation was not gospel but just the best we can do right now.

I am a bit ignorant on the subject, so feel free to correct me if I am wrong.
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  #8  
April 15th, 2009, 03:19 PM
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No, you're right - the entire area of research isn't totally understood yet. It's just one aspect of the whole immunological aspect of pregnancy.

It's interesting too, how much a delicate balance is needed. The activation of a mother's immune system while pregnant (via influenza or something similar) is thought to contribute to brain disorders like schizophrenia in the fetus. Interesting stuff.
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  #9  
April 15th, 2009, 03:45 PM
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No you are right Tor. It isnt totally understood. Its just the only thing that makes any sense considering your body begins to go right back to normal after birth (it takes a few days for your BP to level out, but your body recognizes that they baby is gone immediately and begins to level everything out). Your BP starts going down, the pain subsides, and you begin pee'ing out the massive amounts of extra fluid within hours of giving birth...the pain actually subsides almost immediately! Some women can carry to term, some can carry to the point of the baby having a CHANCE to survive, but some develop it almost immediately and have to take meds from the get-go to keep their blood pressure down and still end up losing the baby before its viable outside of the womb.

In certain autoimmune disorders, the body rejects its OWN organs. So, while I understand the concept that the OP is getting at.. that since our bodies TYPICALLY do things to accept the fetus as part of ourselves, it isnt always the case. Nor is it always the case that our bodies accept things that are FOR SURE part of our own body...parts we were born with. Likewise, our body also adjusts to accept things that for sure ARENT part of us, eventually, as well.

The human body is amazing, regardless of whether its functioning for something that is part of us or not. It recognizes feeding patterns of the already "birthed" baby (who is, no question, its own person) and functions to feed that separate person. In kangaroo care, you can lay your baby (separate organism) on your chest and if the baby is cold, your body will warm up to accommodate and bring the babies temperature up. Same if the baby is cold-the mother's body changes temperature to put the infants temp where it needs to be. It can also regulate the infants heart rate, breathing.. among other things. We know that the mother's body reproduces milk with the specific antibodies and fat content that the baby needs. I dont think the body operating in a way that allows it to sustain a pregnancy is proof that the fetus IS our own body til birth.. just like any other limb or organ.

Maybe Im just misunderstanding the OP concept, though.

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  #10  
April 15th, 2009, 08:09 PM
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just wanted to say....this is rather interesting
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  #11  
April 16th, 2009, 02:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mom2IrishTwins View Post
I dont think the body operating in a way that allows it to sustain a pregnancy is proof that the fetus IS our own body til birth.. just like any other limb or organ.

Maybe Im just misunderstanding the OP concept, though.
Oh, well I was posting this on the pro-choice side - it was just another tidbit of proof that a fetus really isn't its own person until it can sustain life on its own, b/c it's a semiallogenic graft. And from that, regulating whether an abortion could happen or not via law really would be taking away a woman's right to do what she wants with her body. Literally.
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  #12  
April 18th, 2009, 03:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OceanChild View Post
So it's pretty well known that when a woman gets pregnant she is immunosuppressed, particularly in cell-mediated immunity, and this is particularly important during pregnancy so the mother does not reject the fetus. It's an interesting concept, which gives another angle to the idea that the fetus is not somehow an individual while in the womb. In immunological studies, the fetus is considered a semiallogenic graft - meaning, a foreign tissue which is partly the mother's DNA; not an individual organism. An organism is capable of oxygenating blood, maintaining homeostasis, etc. by any definition. Check Merriam-Webster.

What do you think of this, and how do you think it relates to the abortion debate? By the semiallogenic graft definition, which is really what a fetus is in the biological sense, any laws which might be made concerning the restriction of abortion is very literally saying a part of a woman's body can be controlled.

So, according to this idea when would the child become an individual? When the cord is cut? When the baby draws breath? What about a water birth where the baby is born, but yet still attached to the mother and has not taken a breath? Seems to be kind of fuzzy to me and a stretch to find an argument to back up the idea that life does not begin at conception.
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  #13  
April 18th, 2009, 05:27 PM
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When the fetus can survive on its own without the mother. When the fetus has a functioning cerebral cortex. Medical death is when the cerebral cortex stops functioning, so the inverse seems as good as a place to start as any.

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Originally Posted by AMDG View Post
Seems to be kind of fuzzy to me and a stretch to find an argument to back up the idea that life does not begin at conception.
lol Life began once on this planet. Everything else is just modified. Are eggs not alive? Is sperm not alive? Sperm is a potential life; is it murder to masturbate?
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  #14  
April 20th, 2009, 07:56 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OceanChild View Post
When the fetus can survive on its own without the mother. When the fetus has a functioning cerebral cortex. Medical death is when the cerebral cortex stops functioning, so the inverse seems as good as a place to start as any.



lol Life began once on this planet. Everything else is just modified. Are eggs not alive? Is sperm not alive? Sperm is a potential life; is it murder to masturbate?
LOL - last I knew masturbation doesn't actually kill sperm...they just have a short lifespan & die on their own.

As far as the embryo being part of the mother...I still don't see this as any different than what I understood before. In order to not be rejected, the mother's body has to see the unborn as something that "should" be there...and thus a part of her own body. I still think that the embryo is an individual and I still don't think abortion is "okay" but I don't want to legislate that for someone else....nor do I judge someone for having an abortion...it will always make me sad & I don't think anything will change that.
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  #15  
April 21st, 2009, 08:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OceanChild View Post
When the fetus can survive on its own without the mother. When the fetus has a functioning cerebral cortex. Medical death is when the cerebral cortex stops functioning, so the inverse seems as good as a place to start as any.



lol Life began once on this planet. Everything else is just modified. Are eggs not alive? Is sperm not alive? Sperm is a potential life; is it murder to masturbate?

haha! Seriously? You honestly see no difference between sperm and a fetus? If that is the case it would be silly for me continue in this discussion because the difference is basic BASIC science.

So, "when the fetus can survive without the mother." That is when a fetus becomes an individual? Hmmm...so in 1st world countries babies become individuals much sooner than when babies in 3rd world countries do. Interesting.
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  #16  
April 22nd, 2009, 08:12 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OceanChild View Post
When the fetus can survive on its own without the mother. When the fetus has a functioning cerebral cortex. Medical death is when the cerebral cortex stops functioning, so the inverse seems as good as a place to start as any.
That's very well written. The best form of the argument I've seen yet. And something I hadn't quite thought of. Thanks!
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  #19  
April 22nd, 2009, 11:56 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AMDG View Post
haha! Seriously? You honestly see no difference between sperm and a fetus? If that is the case it would be silly for me continue in this discussion because the difference is basic BASIC science.
Seems like you don't understand basic science. Eggs are alive. Sperm is alive. If you're arguing that life begins at conception, and the union of a sperm and egg makes a human life (even at 2 weeks gestation), I'm saying "Why isn't it murder to kill a sperm or egg?" It's really a simple concept here. A fetus developing to full term isn't guaranteed. A sperm only has the potential to be a human being if it connects with an egg and survives complex environmental conditions. A fetus will only survive if it endures complex conditions. So if a sperm and egg are as human as the fetus, because they are both alive, and because they both have the potential to becoming a human being, and they have human DNA, why is it not murder to masturbate?

Pro-lifers (and maybe you) are arguing to me that life begins at conception, and I'm telling you, no, no it doesn't. Life began way before conception. Life began 4.6 million years ago and everything else is just modified. Sperm is, beyond any doubt, alive; and so is a fetus; but that doesn't make either of them a human life. What makes a human life, as I said in my previous posts, is the development of a cerebral cortex and the ability to survive without the mother.

Quote:
So, "when the fetus can survive without the mother." That is when a fetus becomes an individual? Hmmm...so in 1st world countries babies become individuals much sooner than when babies in 3rd world countries do. Interesting.
The fact that a fetus can survive at 22-23 weeks gestation outside of a mother is baseline. What the medical conditions are where that fetus is born will determine whether it lives or dies. That has no bearing on whether it's an individual or not. Your argument doesn't make sense.
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  #20  
April 22nd, 2009, 03:28 PM
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Originally Posted by Mammamelli View Post
Ok, so what about IVF? Many parents have their sperms and eggs coupled in a lab in the hopes of having these embryos implanted... but what about the ones they don't use? Are they killing their children by disgarding the unused embryos?
absolutely!! I am against IVF. Having a child isn't a right it is a gift. I have very close friends and family members who struggle with infertility and it breaks my heart but they understand that they do not have a RIGHT to have a child like many believe.
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