In relation to some recent threads on pro-life issues, this seems pertinent.
Here are three moral dilemmas that should give you a headache if you are pro-life and value intellectual consistency.
- You are in a burning fertility clinic and you can either save the fifty-year-old janitor who lies unconscious on the floor, or you can save a box with a hundred human embryos ready for implantation, you only have the time to save one. Do you, or do you not, choose the box and let the janitor die? Would it change your answer if I multiply the number of embryos in the box by 10? Or by 100?
- Similar to #1, but now you have to actively destroy the box with the human embryos yourself (instead of just passively letting it burn in the fire). Imagine you are carrying the unconscious janitor and the box with the embryos blocks your way, flames are all around you and you can only move forward by kicking the box to the side right into the fire. Would you kick the box into the fire to save the janitor, yes or no?
- Your only way out of the burning fertility clinic is through the parking garage. You have the keys for two of the cars that are parked there – an old company van that has a cooling box with a human embryo ready for implantation in it, and your brand new shiny $250,000 Porsche. You have no special connection to the embryo (i.e. this is not an embryo derived from an in vitro fertilization of one of your wife’s eggs and the two of you have been trying for years to have children without success or something like that – it’s just one of many embryos derived from IVF of some egg and sperm donors you don’t know). The company van is farther away than your Porsche, and getting to it poses a very small but non-negligible risk of dying (let’s say about an about 1 in 10,000 chance). Which car do you pick, knowing that the other one will be destroyed by the fire?
I’ve posed them in many different online discussions about abortion and the reactions were always fascinating. With one exception, I’ve never seen a pro-life person outright saying that yes, they would choose to save the lives of the unborn in those scenarios – the most common reaction is rather an attempt to dismiss them as contrived, unrealistic, extreme, what have you. But this kind of deflection completely misses the point. Yes, the odds that you will ever find yourself in such a situation are as good as non-existent, but if you are pro-life and would NOT choose to save the unborn in that situation, there still is an apparent inconsistency here that demands an explanation.