Challenge: You Wouldn’t Save the Embryos

Posted: June 7, 2011 by Amy Hall in Do the Right Thing, Weekly Challenge

Here’s an interesting challenge to the value of human embryos that does tend to come up:

If you were in a burning lab and you had to choose between saving ten embryos or one toddler, which would you choose? You’d choose the toddler, wouldn’t you. You see? That just proves you don’t really think the embryos are valuable human beings like the toddler.

So how would you defend the intrinsic value of unborn human life in this situation? Alan will be giving his response again this week, so give us your ideas and be sure to check back on Thursday to see his video and find out how you did.

  1. bobby says:

    this would be just like saying back during the holocaust days and nazi said to you “you either have the chance to save 10 jews or a newborn baby wich one is it?”now lets just say u saved the newborn babie that would justifie the holocaust or wouldnt mean jews aren’t Instrinic value humansbeings it would just mean u choose the newborn baby over the ten jews

    this though expirement dosent make sense

  2. Jacob Wolff says:

    First, I would like to point out that the situation proves something very different. This is showing how when something appears more human, its bound to be saved. Also, who would even think of saving an embryo that you can’t normally see, if the lab was burning down the first thing you would see (and hear) would be the toddler, not the embryos. Because the embryos are not what people think about all the time, what is the chance that you would decide to choose the embryos that you can’t see on your own, make no noise, and are relatively disconnected from as compared to a very visible and loud toddler in the situation.

    For the argument for the intrinsic value, you have to define the embryo as a person, because a person has value. One of my friends disqualified an embryo as a person because he said it wasn’t self-aware. So I asked him how they would measure that someone was self-aware. He said they could measure the brain waves and determine from there. However, that would be a relative scale, not an objective scale.
    As for the value, that embryo is a unique group of cells that will never exist again unless it is cloned. Its uniqueness brings its value to it. If all embryos were the same then it wouldn’t matter if we killed a few because they’d just be like a car chassis. Standard built without differentiation. But an embryo is unique. It has all the capabilites to become a mature human being, after all, everyone but adam and eve were an embryo once. So why does someone elses embryo not matter and yours does.
    If we went back to the future and killed your embryo, you as person would not exist, therefore the embryo must have some type of personhood. You can’t have a person without an embryo.

    I think the challenge is just unfair because it doesn’t actually show your actually views on the matter because you’re in an emergency situation and aren’t really thinking that clearly compared to normal everyday life.

  3. Lori Morgan says:

    I do think that the value would be the issue as would the face of the toddler……what ever my choice was I know that God will accept them into his heavenly realm and I am will do what is humanly possible to save all.

  4. Dwain Dixson says:

    I would choose the toddler. Not because of more inherent value, but because it is inline with what God has by his providence already enacted. God has let the toddler be given the breath of life as a separate individual by their birth. Though the ten yet have value in potential person-hood, at the time of the fire, God has shown his good hand in granting this toddler life as a separate individual. Therefore, we must honor God’s wisdom, by following his lead is securing and protecting the health and welfare of this toddler.
    The ten are still human and worthy of the protection, they are still valuable as they have the potential to become full living human persons. If given the appropriate time, care and by God’s grace they might be also be born or by God’s wisdom, they might also not be born to life. The definition or value of a human person is not inherent in age, location or capability. The definition of human life is granted at conception. All information in order to compose a unique individual is provided at conception. If given the appropriate time, location and care will result in a separate unique individual human.
    Yet, at the this specific moment in time, we look to God’s providence and overarching hand to deliver what he has already chosen to give life, therefore we scoop up the toddler and carry them to safety.

    • Amy Hall says:

      Dwain, are you saying that the embryos are not separate, living, unique individuals? They are separate beings, with unique DNA, and they are living from the moment of conception. They don’t have the potential of becoming living human beings, they are living human beings in the very earliest stage of development, just as a newborn is a living human being at the next stage of development, even though they’re not full adults yet.

      I think you might have other reasons for saving the toddler, but the reasons you’ve given here (separate, living, human beings) apply equally for both stages of development.

  5. Eric Lancaster says:

    This begs the question, “Does the good of the many outweigh the good of the few…or the one?”

  6. Thomas Loghry says:

    If you had to choose who would die, would you choose a 10 yr old or a 90 year old? I would, and I think most people would choose the ten year old. Does this make the 90 yr old less human, or his life worth less? No, of course not, but then why do we choose the ten yr old? First, we must note that we are being forced into making a decision. Really, we would have neither die, but because we MUST choose we devise reasons as to why we would choose one over the other that appear to be the most reasonable. Because the 90 yr old is at the end of his life and probably won’t live much longer, and the ten year old has so much more time to live most people would choose the ten year old. Probably the 90 yr old himself would choose the ten year old for that very reason.
    Now in this case with embryos and a toddler, we must note again, we are being put into a totally hypothetical situation where we MUST choose to kill the ten embryos or let the toddler live. In reality, we wouldn’t have it that either happen, but because we are forced into the position to decide, we must make a decision and come up with some reasons for it. I myself would have a very tough time making this decision and I”m not so sure I wouldn’t go the other way, but assuming our decision would be to let the toddler live and kill the embryos there would need to be some reasons. The reason I would give is that the embryos can’t feel pain, unlike the toddler who can. I’d also say that the toddler has developed relationships with family, whereas the embryos haven’t and so the families wouldn’t be as deprived. And my gut, human emotional reason why I might kill the embryos instead of the toddler is that because they aren’t fully developed I’d have an easier time mentally choosing to kill them than a more fully developed toddler who looks human.

    Basically, all of the reasons are horrible reasons. The pain reason is full of gaping holes that you could raise the roof on and the emotional reason is just pathetic. But that’s exactly what this question is playing off of, human emotions. What YOU would do. Absent of emotions, and purely logical, I would save the ten embryos and kill the toddler. But as a human I can’t help having a harder time thinking of the greater emotional pain it would have on the toddler’s family and my own mental health in killing a toddler which looks human.

    In short, this question proves nothing concerning the value of human life. It’s purely subjective and plays off of people’s emotions, offering nothing in way of an objective standard for the value of human life. You could ask what if questions all day , “What if you HAD to choose to kill your mom or your dad, who would you choose?” It forces the person to choose something that they’d think is wrong. In the case of choosing to kill your mom or your dad , both cases are wrong, and so is the case with this question of embryos vs. toddler.

    It’s simply a stupid question.

  7. Dawn says:

    I don’t really care for these made up scenarios because they always present a false dilemma. They force you into a one or the other position and refuse to allow any other options. They are designed to play off emotions and then claim to prove some point. I could easily pose a similar scenario: “You are in a burning building and you can save either 10 toddlers or one adolescent. Which would you choose?” And then claim that their answer proves they think one is intrinsically more valuable than the other – when in reality their choice means nothing of the sort. It’s based purely on their emotional state and not on who they think is more valuable. Ultimately these scenarios prove nothing. I would probably refuse to play the game then attempt to move the conversation into a more fruitful direction.

  8. Albert says:

    Thomas Loghry is correct in stating this is an emotional charged question. So I thought I would answer it this manor:

    We have in our human nature to not put ourselves in harm’s way. But most of us would if there is a greater need to do so, like saving another person. Some are willing to die saving someone even if they know they will die just for trying.

    Therefore, if the toddler is behind a wall of flames that looks impassable, we might end up getting the 10 embryo’s, or the other way around if it’s easier to get the toddler. It all depends on the situation.

    So I would approach the person asking me this question with a few questions of my own.
    Where are the embryo’s in relation to the toddler?
    Is there any obstacles that would prevent me from getting both of them?
    Why can’t I try and get both?

    This does three things:
    1) It puts him into a position of creating the situation to fit his own view point of me having to pick the toddler. So then I could say that you have left it impossible to get to the embryo’s so I have to choose the toddler, which is no choice at all.

    2) It keeps me from making the choice since I’m not in that situation. No reason to make an emotional judgment call unless I’m in that situation, right?

    3) Without being in that particular situation I would explain that I could not make a reasonable choice. He would more than likely get frustrated because he would believe I’m avoiding the question. So his point cannot be made. Which would leave me to say, If I value toddlers the same as I do embryo’s, because they are all human persons, then the choice isn’t which is of more value than the other, but which has a better chance of survival, along with me, if I attempted to save them.

    • Albert says:

      Of course this is with the understanding that I’m not answering this at the moment I’m asked the question but after a while of thinking about it.

  9. Bryan Meyer says:

    The toddler for sure…the difference is actuality versus potentiality. Saving the Toddler does not imply that one does not care about the unborn. Saving the embryos in spite of the toddler has far more egregious implications about one’s intentions than one that saves the toddler. Utilitarianism is in essence relativism.

  10. Steve Castlen says:

    I would respond to the challenger as follows. “I choose the toddler…so what?” The most this scenerio proves is that I am an inconsistant pro-lifer. It DOES NOT prove that the unborn isnt human.

  11. Philip Motes says:

    First, I would like to make an observation. Why is this even a dilemma in the first place? The reason is because the embryos are, in fact, human persons with intrinsic value. If they weren’t, then this wouldn’t be an issue at all. Second, it is interesting that the challenger anticipates my answer will be the toddler. But, what if I just said, “actually, I would save the ten embryos; better to save ten valuable human beings than just one, right? Now, what was your point again?” Then, I would sit back and watch him squirm! Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, as others have pointed out, what does this even prove? If I saved the toddler, does it prove that I don’t think the embryos are equally valuable human beings? Not at all. At most, it would just show that I’m inconsistent, which is hardly a profound conclusion. It definitely doesn’t prove that the embryos are NOT valuable human beings; that is a total non sequitur. So, overall this “argument” really fails.

  12. Adrian Urias says:

    not analogous. in this hypothetical, we are deciding who to save. in abortion, we are deciding who to kill. it doesnt follow that because i choose one over the other, the other isn’t human. thats my two cents, since a lot has already been covered.

  13. Mixon says:

    If I did choose to save the ten embryo’s, does that mean that I think that the toddler is not a human being?

  14. Joshua says:

    I’m a little late to this challenge, but I wanted to second Dawn and Albert. This question is a perfect example of a false choice and a loaded question. The way that the question is phrased does not allow any “correct” response. If you choose to save the toddler, then you apparently devaule the embryos. But if you choose to save the embryos, then you devaule the toddler. But in reality, there is no logical reason why both the toddler and the embryos could not be saved. If presented with this challenge I would point out that: 1) the question is hypothetical and 2) the question does not present all the true options available. Therefore, the question doesn’t really prove anything.