One valuable thought experiment levied against pro-lifers created by science fiction writer, Patrick S. Tomlinson, asks a very difficult question. If you, a pro-life advocate, were in an IVF clinic and there was a fire, if you had to choose between saving 1,000 human embryos or a toddler, who would you save? It seems the honest response of everyone (myself included) is that they would save the toddler. But if we're pro-life and believe embryos have just as much intrinsic worth, doesn't our choice to save the toddler belie or true belief that the toddler has more intrinsic value?
As an example of how easily a scenario can be turned around, imagine that the embryos in question belonged to an infertile couple who had no chance of having children except through these embryos. It may be intuitive to them that they save the embryos. Similarly, imagine that the parents of the toddler in this scenario had instead of 1,000 embryos in the room next door, 2 toddlers of strangers. For many parents, intuition would likely tell them that they need to save their child. Intuition is a valuable thing, but it is rarely valuable apart from thoughtfulness and logic to help ground it.
Intrinsic vs. extrinsic value: When we discuss moral dilemmas related to an individual's value, it's quite easy for equivocation to take place between extrinsic value and intrinsic value. While pro-lifers should hold to the notion that all human life is equally valuable in an intrinsic sense (the value is attached to the person), that doesn't mean all are equal in an extrinsic sense.
For example, were one to face the choice of saving the president's life or an average citizen's life - while they would be justified to save either due to their intrinsic worth - we recognize that the extrinsic value of the president would cause most to choose the saving of his life (depending on who the president was at the time).
We can say the same thing when the choice arises to save a mother or child during childbirth. While both are worthy of being saved, the mother may have more extrinsic value. She may have other children to help care for. She has other solidified relationships which would be harmed by her death. She may be a professional with years of experience in the workforce. Her suffering may be greater in death due to her level of consciousness. Her extrinsic value to her family and society is markedly higher than that of her child.
While I don't claim to know how one goes about weighing extrinsic factors like influence, especially when considering the number of lives involved, I believe there is no right answer. All life is worthy of being saved. You may disagree with the life/lives I choose to save in any given moral dilemma, but I value all life as worth saving. They only reason I wouldn't save all life is because if I wasn't capable. When I must choose, I don't weigh the value and worthiness of one's life to be saved, as all human life is worthy and equal. Rather, I may weigh the cost of one's death. This is very different from the pro-choice position which views some human life as so lacking in value, it can be intentionally destroyed.
Imagine talking to a curator at the national museum. If you ask her the value of most items there, she'll declare that they're priceless. They're irreplaceable. But if you give a scenario in which there is a fire and only one item can be saved, it's likely she'll have an answer as to what piece she'd save first. It may not be the largest item, the oldest item, or the most numerous item, but she'll choose an item to save. Does her choosing of one particular item negate the pricelessness of all other items in the museum? Certainly not!
There is a huge distinction in the valuation system of the pro-life and pro-choice position. The pro-life advocate says all are priceless, refuses to destroy any, yet can choose to save in a particular fashion when forced. Whether he chooses to save the toddler or the embryos, he chose to save those worth equal intrinsic value. All are worth saving. The pro-choice advocate says not all are priceless, we can destroy some, and it is clear who should be saved and who should be left to the fire. This is something the museum curator would never say - that we could actively destroy some works.
This is a striking difference. How can Tomlinson condemn those who are pro-life for choosing to save that which is priceless, yet wishing they could save all?
Counter Example: We all recognize that the choice to save the largest number of lives isn't the metric for determining the value of those lives, though Tomlinson attempts to impose this metric on the pro-lifers. As a clear example, the author of this moral conundrum has chosen to write books. He doesn't work as a doctor, though he likely claims to value life. He doesn't work at a battered women's shelter, though he likely claims to value women. He writes books, does stand-up comedy, and fights on Twitter (his words, not mine). And I in no way question his sincerity about what he claims to value because I understand that choosing to better the world through what you do can't condemn you simply because you don't choose the path that directly saves the most people. Most of us attempt to better the world and help others in some form or fashion, and few of us do it in the most numerically beneficial way. We all recognize that choosing to be an accountant, a factory worker, or an author doesn't negate your say or your stance on important social justice issues. Directly saving the largest number of people is not an accurate way to assess one's morality or valuation system.
1. The Foundational Question: What is killed in abortion?
2. How to Determine Value and Rights: What quality and types of qualities confer rights and value to an individual?
3. Justified Reasons for Taking Human Life: What justifies the taking of human life?
4. Unjustified Reasons for Taking Life: What reasons fail to justify the taking of human life?
5. Bad Christian Arguments and Witness: Common pro-life/Christian arguments and actions which can undermine the pro-life position.
6. Counterrebuttals: A response to significant objections to the pro-life arguments.