The Question That Defeats Pro-Lifers? Here’s What I Think It Misses Out (Guest-Post)
This is a Guest Post by Zoe Ham.
Defeating the Pro-Lifers?
I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but there’s a question that’s been going round social media which supposedly defeats the pro-life argument.
It’s been posed by writer Patrick S. Tomlinson in a Twitter thread last week. (By the way, it’s worth noting that this is all coming up because this Friday is 50 years since the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act.) Anyway, here’s the scenario Tomlinson sets:
You’re in a fertility clinic. Why isn’t important. The fire alarm goes off. You run for the exit. As you run down this hallway, you hear a child screaming from behind a door. You throw open the door and find a five-year-old child crying for help.
They’re in one corner of the room. In the other corner, you spot a frozen container labeled “1000 Viable Human Embryos.” The smoke is rising. You start to choke. You know you can grab one or the other, but not both before you succumb to smoke inhalation and die, saving no one.’
Do you A) save the child, or B) save the thousand embryos? There is no “C.” “C” means you all die.
So there you go.
Tomlinson’s point is that most pro-lifers apparently default to choosing the 5 year-old, which therefore proves we don’t really think embryos are real humans.
I definitely hesitated when I first read it; what would I choose?
Because I really, really, believe each of those embryos are humans. Not just potential humans, but real human babies; just very tiny ones.
Now, I’m not writing this to persuade you of that position, but I do want to explain why that scenario misses something crucial out.
The Craziness of Life or Death Thought Experiments
Of course, some of the hesitancy comes because it’s just a crazy situation to be faced with. A scenario in which you end up having to pick some lives over others is always going to be agonising.
For example, if it was a choice between saving a five-year old or saving 10 five-year olds, whilst we’d probably all end up acknowledging saving 10 lives is greater on paper than saving one life, it would still be uncomfortable. It would still feel like we’re condemning that one life to death.
And in that situation, most of us would never actually want to pick just one option. But, yes, in theory we can see how it would be better to save 10 lives compared to just one life.
But that doesn’t explain all of my hesitancy.
An Alternative Scenario: The Labour Ward
Let me put to you an alternative scenario, to see if I can explain:
You’re in a labour ward. (And à la Tomlinson, the why isn’t important!) Again, the fire alarm goes off. You run for the exit. But as you run down the hallway you hear a child screaming from behind a door. You throw open the door.
Here you see that in one corner (corner A) is a five year old boy. He’s screaming ‘Mummy, Daddy!’ at the top of his lungs, and you already know that his parents are outside and you can hear their cries. They love him, they want him; they’re desperate to save him and protect him and look after him.
In the other corner (corner B) are 100 newborn babies. (Bear with me: for the purposes of this theoretical scenario we need to imagine that these 100 newborns are somehow in one massive hospital crib on wheels – or they’re all connected in one long crib-train, i.e. it’s possible that you could move them all easily…)
But, here’s the catch, none of these babies are wanted.
By that I mean that their parents don’t love them and don’t want them. They’ve left them to die. And the government of the country where this fictional hospital exists has allowed abortion up until 7 days post birth, so given their parental abandonment, the government doesn’t want them around anymore now either. They won’t provide for them in any way; in fact, they don’t recognise them to be human. Society as a whole doesn’t want them and nobody (or hardly anybody) would bat an eyelid if these babies were killed in this fire.
And not just that, but all these newborn babies have also been born with a medical condition which means that in order to live they require life-support for 9 months. If they receive this life support there is every expectation that they will live healthy lives, but they desperately need intensive, sacrificial and costly care for 9 months.
And here’s the kicker: you know that personally you cannot provide this care for 100 babies: you don’t have the money or the where-with-all to provide what they each need for the next 9 months, and you don’t know how to go about getting help either.
So, that’s the deal. Now, who do you save? A or B?
Why *this* situation matters…
Personally, I think that’s a much more realistic scenario facing those of us who are pro-life.
The second scenario makes clear the ‘package-deal’ that those embryos from the first scenario come with. Saving the lives of those 100 embryos is far more complicated than just rescuing them from the burning building. Life in the UK in 2017 is stacked against them.
So whilst many of us who are pro-life will likely hesitate after the original scenario, that’s not because we’re not absolutely convinced that embryos are humans. Its because we… I… am overwhelmed and fearful and bewildered as to how I could ever care for a thousand tiny humans.
And yet, sadly, the original scenario is not entirely fictional. In this country and around the world there exists freezers full of tiny babies. Tiny babies that will probably never be given a chance at life but will be discarded in the rubbish.
I wish that situation didn’t exist. I wish we lived in a country where you were only allowed to create an embryo if you intended to give him or her all that he or she needed for life. I wish a scenario like the original one could never even have been fathomed because why on earth would a caring society ever have 1000 embryos just lying around?! But those wishes of mine haven’t come true yet.
So what am I going to do about it?
I don’t know! I’m scared and overwhelmed by that question! In the past I’ve had the briefest of forays into researching “embryo adoption” (technically embryo donation, since because the embryos aren’t counted as humans, adopting them isn’t counted as ‘adoption’). And yet that seems such a massive thing to do, whilst being just tiny in the grand scheme of things.
So Mr Tomlinson, I choose B. I just need to work out how in reality I’m going to back that up.
Lord Jesus, come back soon.