So, a twitterer … twitteer? twit? … someone on twitter posted the ultimate argument against the pro-life crowd. It was the best argument, anywhere in the world. Lots of his friends said it was the best argument they’d ever heard. Terrific, amazing argument, people. This is how you win the argument and keep winning until you’re tired of winning:
It piqued my interest a bit because, as it happens, I’m a firefigher. Part of being prepared is to consider scenarios in advance, get a better understanding of them, and then be able to react in the moment with more alacrity. Routinely we do encounter situations where only one person can be saved, and we have to prioritize who gets treated first, and, potentially, who survives and doesn’t (though, evidently, we make the best effort to make sure that doesn’t happen). This is called triage.
Now, obviously Thomlinson here isn’t being realistic with the scenario (frozen embryos are not necessarily viable, just because they exist doesn’t mean there are expectant women who want them, and even if they are, it doesn’t mean implantation will actually result, and a frozen jar of embryos would likely not survive anyway if you removed it, etc.) The point is to be as charitable as possible with his original premise and that implies ignoring a lot of practical things (he clarified later that for the purpose of the example, the embryos would weigh the same as the 5-year-old child).
The problem with that, however, is that you end up assuming so many things that the original premise is quashed: ie in order to make it a rational decision, the embryos have to be in such perfect condition that they were equivalent to 1,000 pregnancies. After all, the abortion debate isn’t about embryos in a steel container, but about women who are pregnant and who will, without any intervening forces, produce a living person. The embryos in a steel can will never produce a human if they are left there. The can is not pregnant. In other words, the more ideal the scenario for this hypothetical…the less it works.
So, how would this scenario play out in real life, with me playing the hypothetical firefighter? Well, I’m perfectly capable of carrying the weight of a person my own size, so around 84Kg (I’ve carried up to 90Kg, but let’s not push it; I’m not getting any younger). The average 5-year-old weighs around 18Kg. The hypothetical embryo case weighs the same as the kid; so I could carry it, the kid, and still have enough carrying capacity to also drag Ariana Grande out from the flames as well (how did she get there?). Option C not existing is only for weaklings!!!
But, self-aggrandizement aside, what would really happen depends on triage. And here’s the thing about triage: it’s designed to save as many people as possible, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the value of said people.
If there is a man in a wheelchair, and there is a young girl, both in the same room, triage says that I should carry (or wheel if possible, because let’s be real here) the man in the wheelchair. Why? Because the girl is capable of walking herself. It doesn’t matter if the man in the wheelchair is a serial murderer. It doesn’t even matter if he was there planning to kill the little girl. Fucked up? Think of it this way: I just burst into the room and have no clue what’s going on. I don’t know who he is or who she is. My job is to save as many people as possible. I cannot have the luxury of valuing one person over another.
The idea of who you would save and who you would let die as some measure of who you actually care about works only on a subjective level. But objectivity by definition is not swayed by who it cares more about. And if you are trying to make an objective argument (pro-lifers are full of shit), you can’t use a subjective model to do so.
Triage doesn’t care if you are pro-life, pro-choice, or don’t have an opinion on the issue. It’s practical. The kid is likely to go on to live a happy life and is capable of surviving on his own; the embryos will need a complicated medical procedure to even become a pregnancy. Practically speaking, you save the kid because he’s more likely to survive.