Jim, here's a thought experiment for you.
You're trapped in a burning house, with little time to escape. To the left of you lies a 1yr old baby, Eddy. Eddy is drenched in smoke, barely able to breath, and sqealing in fear of the flames. He will be burnt alive in just a few seconds. But to the right of you rests a suitcase, inside of which are 50 embryos. They too will be burnt in a few seconds.
Your goal is to save as many persons as possible. You only have time to take one item with you when you escape: either Eddy or the suitcase.
Which would you take?
I assume the purpose of this hypothetical is to create a wedge to then justify abortion. If the prolifer admits that he’d save Eddy instead of the suitcase, then Charlie will exclaim that prolifers really don’t believe that human embryos are persons or human beings. So how should a prolifer answer this question? And what would such a “concession” amount to?
1. It’s easy to come up with ethical dilemmas which make us squirm. All that means is that we can dream up scenarios in which there is no good choice. Every choice is a bad choice. Not necessarily a wrong choice, but a bad choice.
2. Suppose we save Eddy instead of the suitcase. What does that prove?
A prolifer might save Eddy, not because he thinks that Eddy is more human or more valuable, but because a one-year old baby has more capacity for pain than an embryo (with its underdeveloped nervous system). He might save Eddy because that’s a more merciful choice.
3. Or take a different scenario. We have two patients with liver failure. One is a 14-year-old boy, the other is a middle-aged alcoholic. Who do we give the donated liver to?
We give the liver to the 14-year-old boy. Why? Is that because we value his life over the life of the middle-aged alcoholic? Is that because we think the 14-year-old boy is more human than the middle-aged alcoholic?
No. Our reasoning is more like this: we figure the 14-year-old boy has more of a life ahead of him. We also figure that the middle-aged man is culpable for the situation he finds himself in. He was born with a perfectly good liver. He abused it. He blew his chance.
If we had two donated livers to spare, we’d give one to each. But since we don’t, the 14-year-old gets the transplant.
4. Or take a Sophie’s Choice dilemma. If she gives up one child to save another, does that mean she values one more than another? That she regards one as more human than another?
No. It may be a purely arbitrary choice.
BTW, if I were in her situation, I wouldn’t choose one child over the other. I’d tell the Nazi guard that if he forces me to choose, then he might as well shoot all three of us.
5. Or take another scenario. On the one hand, a kindergarten is on fire. I hear kids screaming inside. On the other hand, I see a 2-year-old walking over to a rattlesnake. Do I save the 2-year old, or do I try to rescue some of the kindergartners?
Logically, I’d sacrifice the 2-year-old. But, in reality, I might save him instead.
Why? Because there’s a natural tendency to save the person we can see, not the person we can’t.
I can see him. The trusting eyes. The pleading eyes. The gut-wrenching contrast between my sense of his danger and his childish obliviousness to his own peril. I’m close to him. A few feet away. All this triggers my protective, paternal instincts.
It may not be logical, but if I save him instead, that’s not because I value him more than the kids inside the kindergarten. It’s not because I think he’s more human.
It’s simply a natural human response. That’s how our empathy is wired.
6. We also place more value on our own children than on other children. This doesn’t mean we think they’re more intrinsically valuable. Or more human. But they mean more to us. We love them more. And we have a greater duty to them.
7. There’s also a difference between an embryo inside the womb and an embryo outside the womb. Both are human, but we can predict the fate of an embryo inside the womb with more confidence than the fate of an embryo outside the womb.
Even if I save the suitcase, I still don’t know what will become of them in the long-run. Will they survive? Will they ever be implanted? Ever be born?
8. To take a comparison: suppose there’s a fire at the hospital. Do you save the comatose patient or the lucid patient beside him?
You save the lucid patient because you don’t know if the comatose patient will ever come out of his coma.
This doesn’t mean he’s subhuman. And it doesn’t mean that you kill him.
It just means that if you’re forced to choose between the two, quality of life can be a consideration.
Likewise, would you save the terminal cancer patient or the patient who’s recovering from an appendectomy?
As a rule, you’d sacrifice the cancer patient.
An exception might be if he’s your father or brother.
As a rule, there is a difference between taking life and saving life. There are situations where quality of life is relevant to saving life, but not to taking life.
There are some extreme cases where quality of life is also relevant to the taking of life. On 9/11 we saw some victims jump from burning skyscrapers.
9. Of course, one doesn’t base public policy on the most extreme examples imaginable. Exceptional cases are just that.
10.Finally, the prolifer might opt to save the suitcase instead of Eddy. I’m just making that point that even if he didn’t, this doesn’t prove what the abortionist is trying to prove.