Petri Dish vs Child

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Lately, I’ve been confronted with a conundrum abortion advocates seem to think really puts us in our place. They think this rhetorical question puts an end once and for all to the pro-life claim that the pre-born are equal in value to born children. Too bad so sad, but they’re wrong.

Here’s their “silver bullet” pro-abortion argument: If you were in a burning building and had only enough time to save either a 5-year old girl or a petri dish with 12 living embryos, which would you save? If asked this, some of us would feel on the spot and be unsure how to answer. Understandable, because the question is designed to make us look bad no matter what our answer.

If we say the petri dish (better to save 12 lives than just 1, right pro-lifer??) we come across as heartless fanatics who would let a 5-year old child burn to death in favor of saving a bunch of cells. If we choose the little girl, it means we don’t really believe our own pro-life rhetoric that says embryos are equal in value. But not so fast.

Because the question is rhetorical, we could simply give a rhetorical answer and say we would save both. Or, we could just expose the question for what it is, a lame attempt to make us look bad, and refuse to answer at all. I could also reply that I wouldn’t save any of them and would just get out of the building as quickly as I could to save myself. That might say something of my character, but again it would in no way prove unborn life is less valuable than born life.  None of these will satisfy a persistent questioner, however, as he or she would insist there is no time to save both, and demand we make a choice in order to adequately defend our beliefs.

So what are we to say when they just won’t accept anything but a direct answer? Here’s what I think is the best answer to put this little game to rest once and for all: “I would most likely save the little girl, however that does not mean I believe the lives of the embryos have less valuable, nor does it in any way disprove the over-arching claim that all lives, including pre-born lives, have equal value.”

So why would I likely save the girl and leave the embryos behind to perish? It’s because I would have a human, emotional connection with the little girl that I don’t have with the embryos. I might see her face, hear her cries, hear her mother begging for her to be saved. I know the pain her death would cause her and her family. Also, I could see my own humanity and all the 5-year olds I’ve ever known in her. Through my senses of sight and sound I’d have made a human connection with her that I would not have made with the embryos.

In fact, even if I could not see or hear her at all, I could still visualize what she might look like and have a keen sense of the terror she would be experiencing. That alone would be enough to establish an emotional connection to her that I would not have with the embryonic children. Still, it doesn’t mean the embryos are less valuable, it just means I would have all these things driving me to save the little girl.

The situation could be modified in different ways to make the questioner see that this is a good answer consistent with our pro-life beliefs. For example, why do Canadian parents (including “pro-choice” parents) spend hundreds of dollars every month just to provide basic sustenance for their 1 child when that money could save dozens of starving children overseas? Is every Canadian parent a horrible person for letting dozens of children die each month? Are starving children in other countries less valuable or less human than our Canadian children? The answer to both these questions is, “of course not.”

As parents, we have deep, intense bonds with our own children that we simply don’t have with children overseas (generally speaking), and that is primarily what drives us to care for our own first. The same sort of forces are at work in the petri dish vs child scenario. Through my experience with the 5 year old or with others like her, I would most likely be driven to save her first, but I still recognize that the embryos I don’t have a human connection with have equal intrinsic worth and value as you and I.

That’s my answer and I’m sticking to it.

Photo by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash