Here’s a simple thought-experiment. There’s a fire at an fertility clinic, and there is precious little time before the entire building is engulfed in flames. Down one hallway, there’s the soft purring sound of an incubator with a thousand frozen embryos; down the other hallway, the cries of a newborn baby. Which do you choose to save?
Usually, people answer “the baby” and the interesting debate then concerns why.
Answers on that thread include:
- Because the baby could suffer more (to which Zac adds the condition that the baby is anaesthetized)
- Because the baby has more years ahead of it
- Because the chances of the baby surviving are greater
StephenB, interestingly, says that if he could be sure that 50% of the frozen embryos would subsequently be born, he’d save the Vat.
All these answers are predicated on the idea that an embryo is a full human being from “the moment of conception” (which one? I ask) and that the ethical dilemma is of the do you save a hundred strangers or one friend? type. Zachriel’s question, on the other hand, is designed to elicit the acknowledgement that gestation is a process of becoming, and that the reason people “save the baby” is an implicit acknowledgement that a baby’s death is a bigger deal than a blastocyst’s.
Well, I’m in the latter camp, not simply because of the additional dimension that most embryos are attached to another human being, whose human rights are also an issue, although that is huge. The other reason I’m in that camp is that I think we make ourselves. As we we develop from babyhood to adulthood, increasingly we own our past and possess our future. So to the death of a seven year old – or even a two-year old – to me, is actually a bigger deal than the death of a baby – it is the cancellation of an imagined future and a remembered past. Which is NOT to argue for the legitimacy of infanticide. Legally, it seems to me, the absolutely right place to mark the beginning of full human rights is birth. It’s clear, it’s intuitive, it’s pretty unambiguous, and it’s well before the baby has any conception of her own future or remembrance of her own past.
Nor is it to dismiss the tragedy of infant death. But infant death, I argue is the death of the hopes of the infant’s family – it is not the death of the infant’s hopes, because the infant’s hopes do not yet extend much beyond the next moment. I would save the baby, not the Vat because the baby is someone’s child. But if the choice was between a baby and a two year old, so help me, I’d save the two year old.
What would you do?