1000 Embryos vs. a 5-year-old


On Twitter today I came across this thread, retweeted by Michael Malice. The original thread is short, so you can read the whole argument, but the TLDR version is: there is a fire, you can either save a 5-year-old or 1000 embryos, which do you choose?

The tweeter’s conclusion is: everyone knows you choose the 5-year-old, therefore everyone who is for abortion is a misogynist and if you say you believe an embryo is a valuable human being, worthy of life, you are lying.

Wow. There are some… issues with the logic here. Let’s check some of them out.

1. So what?

Most glaringly, what does this argument have to do with abortion? Assume for a second that I agree with this conclusion: an embryo is not as valuable as a 5-year-old. In fact, let’s take it one step further and create a hypothetical ranking of how I value people in their various life stages / situations:

  1. My family
  2. Newborn baby (I love babies!)
  3. A talented surgeon
  4. My favorite hockey player
  5. 1000 unborn babies
  6. Random 5-year-old
  7. 1000 unborn babies in tubes (questionable viability)
  8. Guy on death row
  9. Smelly homeless guy that always harasses me

Ok, we have our list. It checks out against the twitter scenario – according to my list I would have to save the random 5-year-old over the 1000 babies in tubes since the 5-year-old is just ranked higher. But jolly gee, I’m still pro-life?!

That’s because being pro-life doesn’t mean you value the embryo over some other human’s life. It means you value the child’s life over the right to use your body as you want. Yes, you have the prima facie right to use your body as you wish. But there are a vast number of life-boat scenarios where you cannot, abortion being one of them.

So as I mentioned in a response to Michael Malice, this whole argument has “zero” to do with abortion.

2. Let’s make the argument more interesting

Let’s modify the argument to make it a bit more interesting. Instead of 1000 embryos, let’s say there are 5 children who have incurable leukemia. You could save the 5 children, but you know they will die soon anyway. Do you still save the healthy 5-year-old? I think most people would say yes. This doesn’t mean the 5 other children are worthless, that they don’t deserve life, or that you wouldn’t save them as well given the opportunity.

Here’s another scenario: replace 1000 embryos with a 25 year old woman. Who do you save? The answer becomes less clear, but once again – whatever you choose doesn’t mean you don’t value the other.

3. Inviability of the embryos

A big reason many people largely would choose the embryos over the child likely has to do with viability. The embryos are in a lab, they would not grow without supervision. What if the situation were: there is a 5-year-old and 1000 pregnant women. All of the women will die after giving birth (and no, abortion can’t help them survive). So your choice is: save the 1000 women so that their babies can be born in a few months or save the 5-year-old. Maybe some would call me heartless, but I’m going to save the 1000 babies.

There are a myriad different ways this whole argument can go. It’s a little too easy to poke holes in it, so it’s fascinating to me it’s getting such traction.

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