February 23, 2024

Pick the odd one out: measles, mumps, Covid, rubella, pregnancy, malaria

Is pregnancy a disease? With some bioethicists arguing that the continuance of the human species is not worth the candle or that the foetus is an invasive foreign body, it’s inevitable that someone would argue that gestating new humans is a disease.

In an open access article in the Journal of Medical Ethics ,two bioethicists at the University of Oslo, in Norway, Anna Smajdor and Joona Räsänen, make a vigorous case for treating pregnancy as a disease. How could a condition so inconvenient, painful, and even life-threatening be regarded as a normal part of life? And statistically, they point out, it is not even normal. Women of reproductive age constitute only a small proportion of the population. And an even smaller sliver of these is pregnant at any moment. They conclude that pregnancy must be a disease caused by a pathogen, “an external organism invading the host’s body”, i.e. sperm.

What about the survival of the species? What about it? There is no reason why homo sapiens should continue to exist. The pain of childbirth is “significantly more painful, protracted, and lethal than delivery in other mammal species”. Perhaps this is an evolutionary maladaptive trait which will lead to our extinction. For instance, the antlers of some species of deer became so heavy that they eventually went extinct. Will the same happen to humanity?  They write:

gender equality leads to plummeting birthdates, perhaps precisely because human birth is so traumatic for the human body, and is incompatible with many other goods that humans value. We cannot infer from our existence now that we are equipped to survive indefinitely, nor that reproduction will continue as we know it.

In short, pregnancy is a disease like measles. Its origin is a pathogen; it is painful and distressing; and it can kill you.