Pro-Life People Keep Failing the Burning Clinic Hypo

(In my opinion, pro-life and pro-choice do not quite mean the same thing in anarchy as they do in statism. Under an anarchist paradigm I do not believe that being pro-life requires you do advocate the use of force against women who have  committed feticide, or the doctors who provide abortions. In the statist paradigm it does, because under a statist paradigm you deal with everything you don’t like with the use of force. I think that criminalizing feticide does more harm than good due to the fact that your actions do not necessarily accomplish your goals, and due to the fact that the State generally sucks at carrying out particular stated goals. Aside from some evictionist positions on non-consensual pregnancies, I believe that feticide is clearly murder under the NAP. I believe that this makes me pro-life according to anarchy.)

There is a hypo that is still going around asking if you were in a burning fertility clinic (for some reason) and there was a toddler and a cryogenic freezer filled with 1000 embryos, and you can only save one, which would you save. Pro-life people, both statist and anarchist, have been miserably failing this hypo. I’ve seen some go so far as to try to defeat the hypo. Yes, it is unlikely that you will find yourself in this position; it is unlikely that you will somehow know the contents of the freezer; the freezer probably won’t survive being removed irl; I have no idea how heavy a cryogenic freezer is. But you are also highly unlikely to ever find yourself standing in a field next to an unattended, unsecured lever, know how the lever changes tracks, or to see people tied to tracks ever during the duration of your life. Though hypos can get too academic, the purpose of philosophical hypos is to test ideas, not to create realistic scenarios. You know damn good and well what the purpose of this hypo is, and by attempting to evade it you make clear that you do not want to discuss your valuation of human embryos.

I do not think that this hypo gives the pro-choice argument everything it wants, but that does not mean that it is being answered in any kind of logical way. I do not think that this hypo is intended to get you to admit that killing human embryos is morally acceptable. If someone is asking you this hypo they believe the you are opposed to killing human embryos. The reason that this hypo answered wrong doesn’t get you to abortion is because this is a trolly problem between two groups- someone is going to die. Abortion, to the extent that it is a trolly problem, is a trolly problem with a person tied to one track and the retroactive personal autonomy of someone else tied to the other track. It is true that valuing someone less, even exponentially less, than someone else does not mean that it is ok to kill them for convenience, but it is telling about your valuation of that person.

The purpose of this hypo is to get you to admit that you do not value human embryos as highly as you value humans in other stages of development. If embryos aren’t as valuable as any other person then we have to separately determine what rights they get. If you aren’t willing to say “they’re a regular human; they get regular human rights” then you have to separately settle whether they have a right to not be killed. You have to separately settle whether they have a right to not be evicted. I have heard pro-choice people argue that very early abortions are evictionism, which is true, and these weren’t exactly people who spend their free time reading Walter Block articles. If you’re going to concede that embryos have some value less than a more developed human then you have to defend what that value is and why. The assertion that they have less value than a toddler in no way settles their worth.  All we’ve been doing is declaring that embryos have some value less than that of a “full” human.

If you choose the lesser amount of people in a trolly problem then that says something about how you value the greater amount of people. (Or that you have qualms about pulling the lever as a concept, but that isn’t an issue here.) No, you are not saying that its ok to kill embryos, but your conclusion does necessitate that you value embryos exponentially less than born people. This isn’t a great position to take for someone who thinks that abortion is murder, especially for someone who thinks that abortion justifies the caging of women and medical hitmen. If you value 300-500* embryos less than one toddler, it is entirely reasonable to question how you value one embryo more than the torment of one woman.

The most common response I hear that tries to justify saving one as opposed to 300-500 is that the toddler will die painfully and embryos can not feel pain. I hear that childbirth is painful. If you are valuing 300-500 lives less than pain, albeit torturous pain, then that same argument can be used to devalue only one life. There is no amount of people I would let die in order to avoid a random person’s pain. On one track I have 300 people and on the other I have pain? What? No. Not dying wins. And since there will be 300 people not dying they win over the one person not dying. Doing otherwise is ranking the value of humans based on their stage of development. I also have doubts as to whether these people would choose the painless death of 300 adults over the Gitmo-style torturous death of one adult. They are simply valuing humans based on stage of development, much like an abortionist does when he kills a fetus for the wellbeing of an adult woman.

Another common “explanation” is that the toddler has emotional bonds with people while the freezer full of embryos do not. In most cases, I am fairly convinced that women seeking elective abortions do not have an emotional bond with the baby. Aborted babies have no friends, achievements, no legacy, no memories of Christmas at their grandparents’ house. They’ve never even met anyone. Does this make them less valuable? If so, then why do you oppose abortion? Is the infanticide of an unwanted infant less bad than a murder of someone well-liked in their community with many friends? This same standard makes abortion at least not as bad as most murders.

I’ve been asked what if instead of one 1000 embryos it was one 90 year old, one cancer patient, my own child, or the person who will cure cancer. Asking if it were my child is an attempt at an Appeal To Emotion, and if that’s all it was the best that it could do is prove that I am imperfect. About a highly emotional subject. When I have to make split second decisions. While fleeing a burning building. To be clear, I do not advocate the punishment, shunning, or even thinking ill of anyone who makes the inferior decision in a trolly problem. That isn’t the point of trolly problems. The problem of trolly problems is to explore philosophical issues. However, it it were my child vs 300 random children I would save my child.Though my child is not objectively more valuable than any other child, they are more valuable to me and no sane person expects otherwise. More importantly, I have an obligation to my child that I do not have to strangers. It would be immoral to not choose my own child because I would be choosing to do a kindness to strangers at the expenses of abandoning my obligations to my child. If the person competing with the toddler was one 90 year old or a cancer patient then you might not actually be able to save them. It would then make sense to save the person that you could save. This is not a valuation of 90 year olds relative to toddlers; it is a triage issue. If you can not save someone because they are about to die no matter what you do, that is a statement about your ability to save them, not about their value to you. If the toddler is competing against someone who you somehow know will cure cancer, then the toddler is competing against more people than that one medical researcher. This just changes the numbers and it is appropriate to value several lives above one life.

I either value embryos as humans or I don’t. If I do then I have no basis on which to value them differently than other random humans. If I don’t then I have no basis on which to tell humans that they ought not kill them.



*The natural survival rate of human embryos is between 30-50% depending on who you ask. I think it is reasonable to clarify what survival rate you should assume, but 300-500 seems reasonable. Assuming a survival rate of 0, while probably accurate of a cryogenic freezer pulled out of a fire, is effectively a refusal to answer the question that is being asked. Any survival rate above 1 should be preferred to the 1 toddler if you consider human embryos to be valuable as humans.

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