which baby’s life would you save? (written in 2010)

Let’s say you believe life begins at conception. Personally, and by that I mean for me, I believe it does. We’ll start with that assumption. In fact, let’s just agree with the Republican Platform where they “affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed…and we endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.” Additionally, all Republicans who receive support from the national party believe this. Let’s be Republicans for a moment here. Not right-wing-extremists. Just Republicans, moderates, left-leaning, even. But we are Republicans who are receiving support from the national party. So. Life begins at conception. Got it? Okay.

Here’s what I encourage you to consider.

The house is burning down. In the room most consumed by flames there is a three year old child, screaming, crying, pleading for your rescue. Next to the child is a petri dish containing live human cells about five days after fertilization, at the blastocyst stage. They are about to be transferred into the waiting mother that evening. You are only able to save one of these babies.

Which baby would you save?


How would you feel if you could only save the younger baby?

How would you feel if you could only save the older baby?

How are those feelings different?

Now, a second story for your consideration.

Again, a fire is consuming the building. In the room, engulfed in flames is a crying infant. A newborn, just hours old. Next to that baby is a woman, comatose or in a “vegetative” state. All medical personnel have agreed she will never wake up. She is, however, carrying a baby inside her. She has almost reached full term. Most reasonable people would describe her as having a baby inside of her. If it were born now, it would survive.

There is no time, though, to take time for considering your options. You will either save the crying newborn, or the effectively dead woman and her live baby.

Which baby would you save?


How would you feel if you could only save the younger baby?

How would you feel if you could only save the older baby?

How are those feelings different?

Probably, when faced with this sort of decision you feel even more serious discomfort. Perhaps you are the sort of person who simply can’t deal in hypothetical questions or think they are pointless. That’s fine. Don’t do it. If you are like me, the conflict is so great a choice seems impossible.

You see, as most of us recognize, abortion is complicated. And, you may see in that first example, there is a point where most reasonable people will put the life of the born child before the unborn child. The second example is more complicated, but, if you are anything like me, you might lean toward the born child. It’s even horrible and shameful just typing that.

If you vote for a Republican, though, no matter how moderate or centrist, if they have support from the national party, you are voting for someone who has said in writing they believe those cells in the petri dish have as much a right to life as that crying toddler. Either they believe this, or they lied to get the support of their party.

The Republican party is run by extremists who don’t speak for most Americans. We progressives have done a horrible job exposing their immoral behavior.

If you know someone who believes Republicans stand for family values, please ask them to talk with their representatives. Have they signed the Republican platform? Do they believe in what they signed? Or, were they lying so they could get the support of the party?

Cells in a petri dish = a toddler. Or, lying just to get elected.

Those are the choices for Republicans.

15 thoughts on “which baby’s life would you save? (written in 2010)

  1. Those are good examples, expressed in a really clear, unambiguous way. I've never seen examples this good, so kudos! I, being adamantly pro-abortion — not simply pro-choice because in a lot of cases abortion is the RIGHT THING TO DO — would save the 3-year-old without a moment's hesitation. I would save the newborn over the almost-born/vegwoman as well, but that would give me a big sad.

    Yah. Pro-abortion doesn't necessarily mean I approve of all abortions up until the moment of birth — I think late term abortions should be severely restricted, maybe even more than they are. But early abortions should be easy and safe and cheap for any woman/girl who wants one anywhere in this country or for any woman in the armed forces.

    Why would I save the born baby in the second scenario? Because a born baby is more of a person than an unborn baby (“person” as distinguished from “human” in the philosophical sense), would be easier to save, and probably has a better chance of survival.


  2. Good examples, but I don't think our emotional reactions to situations like that tell us much about the objective worth of an unborn fetus vs. a toddler. We can see the toddler, touch it, hear it crying, and form an emotional connection to it. The fetus, to our minds, is much more of an abstract concept. I'd liken it to hearing about a disaster that happens on the other side of the world vs. one that happens in my hometown. I will have a much stronger reaction to the disaster that happens in my hometown, even though the lives aren't worth any more or less than the lives of people on the other side of the world.

    I am, reluctantly, pro-choice. I believe the fetus is a human being, and further, I can't accept the premise that this is just a matter of individual personal belief which should be irrelevant to our laws. It seems inescapable to me that if a fetus is a human being, it also has human rights. What pushes me into the pro-choice column is that the fetus is in the unique position of living inside the body of another human being. If you frame the question as: should the woman be legally required to allow the fetus to live in her body for nine months? –it looks a little different. You can argue that, except in cases of rape, the woman chose to be sexually active and thus assumed a responsibility to any child that might be conceived as a result, but given the nuances of various situations, the unintended consequences of outlawing abortion, etc., I still ultimately think it needs to be legal. But I've long thought the issue just isnt't as cut-and-dry as either side likes to make it out to be.

  3. In either scenario it's not even close. You pick the live child. What's discomforting is our inability to pin down where that choice is coming from.

    Like your other commenters I'm reluctantly pro-choice. But that doesn't mean I attribute the same moral worth to an embryo or fetus as I would to a live child. I simply believe that once the creation process has begun, there's very few moral justifications for purposefully ending life. Abortion is ending life. But that doesn't mean the life ended has the same moral worth as a person born alive. Personally, I'm anti-abortion. But I'm generally pro-choice because it's a complex issue, and I don't think society should make laws against things that are 50-50 propositions when you query the population. Laws should help us define our agreements. Not our disagreements.

    Really, with the risk of miscarriage being relatively high, should we always have a funeral every time a baby doesn't make it past the 12-week stage? What if I rear-end a woman's car in a minor accident, perhaps causing her 20-week old fetus to miscarry a few days later? Am I charged with manslaughter? Would the punishment be the same if I killed a 3-year-old? Would I feel as awful about the former? Should I be allowed to introduce evidence that the woman has 6 times been pregnant before and miscarried each time?

    Instinctively, we know there's a difference between being born and not being born. And part of that difference is related to our innate ideas surrounding personhood. But part of it is probability and expected value. That's one of the reasons late-term abortions make damn near everyone queasy.

    Babies face daunting odds in being born. Our moral calculus recognizes that. We can quickly decide to rescue a child vs. a petri dish. Because we've been making decisions like that for many thousands of years. Same with the vegetative woman (who also is much heavier than the infant).

    The decision is easy. Only in the vacuum of justification / thought experiments is it really troubling. In the moment, it's pretty damn clear what to do.

  4. You can argue (e.g., “invent”) exceptional cases with no win outcomes every day. These few dozen cases per year you're banging on about are swamped by the reality of the millions reaped by the death industry.

    I prefer the real life experience: Abortion is statistically most frequently used by po' fo'k as birth control, which results in a huge reduction in the number of unwanted/unsupportable children, which results in reduced strain on social services and an enormous drop in crime rates about 15-25 years after the abortions take place.

    And is anyone surprised to find this impacts the black community (hugely) more than anyone else? A clearer example of weeding out the incompatibles based on class and race would be harder to find. If you support the Democrats, abortion=good, and statistically, abortion=eugenics therefor eugenics=good.

    Leave it American liberals to figure out how to engage in the wholesale slaughter of social undesirables and arguably genetic defectives to the tune of millions per year, make it a sound like such a virtue that it's actually carried out by their own parents, and all without building a single camp or firing up a single oven.

    Die Endlösung sold as “freedom”. Only a Democrat would have the balls to try to pull THAT off.

  5. Great comments! (Forgive me if that sounds condescending. Someone just said “Good job!” to me about this post and I wanted to kick him, it sounded like a pat on the had.)

    Like almost everything in life, abortion is complicated. The only way we make sense of it is by using emotions, not just rational/objective reasoning. The Enlightenment view of the mind is wrong.

    I want to do anything I can to help moderate Republicans or conservative independents or anti-abortion Democrats understand that most people are “reluctantly” pro-choice but the Republican party is NOT. This would, I believe, also help the progressives learn some courage.

    The Republican party, and any candidate who gets support of the National party, will make no exceptions. All abortions, always, are murder and are never acceptable.

    And, Anonymous, yes, I've seen those stats. I've got no problem with the idea that crime was reduced 15-20 years after Roe v. Wade. It just goes to show that women can be trusted to make good decisions about their readiness for motherhood. It's not the point, though. I assume you're a Right Wing guy since I recognize your voice. My point is not pro-abortion, my point is that Republicans ought to make their party represent them and that we progressives should stop being chickenshit wimps about addressing difficult issues.

  6. This is terrific. I wrote a paper about when life begins decades ago. It came down to the idea that it has to include relationality… The degree to which the being has become part of a community, at least until actual birth. I don't think I came up with such good examples as you did. But the bottom line is that it's subtle and complicated. A petri dish of cells is way different from the crying infant. But how different is the possibly viable 2 pound fetus from the 5 pound probably?

    Anyway, I was really “somethinged…” (can't think of the word) to find my daughter expressing my thoughts in such eloquent language.

    Your loving mom.

  7. I <3 that you were "somethinged!" :-)

    That word “relationality” ties into the whole thing I'm obsessed with these days, that *everyone* uses emotions to make decisions. That there are rarely ever opinions, values, morals based on facts that don't contradict other rational facts in someone's life, etc.

  8. Another interesting scientific experiment you can do is to obtain some sperm cells and an ovum or two and put them in a Petri dish. Set the dish outside on your front porch. In the morning your house will be surrounded by Republicans, praying and singing and whooping it up and sizing the Petri dish for stretchies, etc. I mean, is this a great country or what?

  9. Oh, yeah, Anonymous, and all this stuff about Hitler is a shove in the face to everyone who lost an actual baby or other person to the Holocaust. Any Jewish person would gladly have traded any one of the dead for a hundred zygotes, and cried for joy besides. (Ask.) And if you'd been there, so would you.

  10. Actually, Archer, both you and anonymous are falling into that old Enlightenment perspective. People who believe abortion is literally murder *believe* it as much as you know Holocaust survivors would likely find the comparison (abortion/genocide) offensive.

    While I happen to agree with you that the comparison logically, rationally doesn't hold water, that's not how beliefs are formed. And I am not even saying that people who see/believe abortion is genocide are somehow just misguided. I am not saying that (repeating myself to be clear).

    I'm not even saying it's wrong to say BULLSHIT when someone makes the comparison.

    I'm only saying the conversation will go nowhere. Neither view, since they are so “extreme” will be able to understand the other using reason/logic that only calls on metaphors already existing in your minds. You need new metaphors, new analogies, new stories, new frames if you actually want to understand each other. (Which, it's possible, you might not want to.)

  11. There's a fire. Two elderly women are trapped. You can only rescue one. Which one?

    Is that not exactly the same question as you are asking (basing it on the feeling you share with the Repubs that life begins at conception)?

    The premise behind your premise is flawed, and you are not crafting the dilemma you may think you're crafting. Obviously you make _a_ choice and in each of your scenarios it is highly likely the savior will choose the one whose need carries more emotional impact on, not just the savior herself, but most other people involved.

    That most people cannot get too, too emotionally attached to a petri dish awaiting implantation during an emergency doesn't really have bearing on a decision to state that a teen not wanting to mess up her figure for the prom and getting an abortion is tantamount to murder.


    I also want to state that if you don't want people drawing you in to FB, turn off the auto-suck on NetworkedBlogs until you're ready to come back to FB. Easiest solution, yes?

  12. Oh, and I've taken new measures to avoid FB. If I stopped the import, though, I'd lose readers. I just need to stop peeking and noticing people's comments! I'll be back eventually. :-)

  13. gekko, you are misunderstanding what I'm saying while also confirming my point.

    This is not about whether abortion is right or wrong. This is not about choosing between a petri dish and an already born baby. This is about just what you said: it's emotional.

    We make decisions, form our morals and values, using *emotions* not pure reason or rationality.

    The Republicans who receive money from the National party have signed the platform saying that all abortion is wrong in every case. I'm saying abortion is a complicated issue and that most Americans fall somewhere on the reluctantly pro-choice side. Most are *not* militantly pro-choice (like me) or militantly pro-life.

    Republicans who get support from the national party are either lying to get that support, or they disagree with most Americans.

    And, progressives have been too timid, tried to be “rational” and use “facts” about an issue when that is simply not how our brains work. As you described, it's emotions that matter in these decisions.

  14. Mm, not convinced I missed your point nor really what you were saying. I did not mean to imply there was anything about morals in what you posited. Simply noting that if you accept a premise (that life starts at point X, or that living beings have the same rights, or that any one life deserves being saved, etc.) then your examples are no different than asking a person who they would choose to save given any other situation involving people.

    If your point _was_ that decisions are made based on a myriad of things, most of them having to do with emotions, then I guess we are in agreement.

    In the case of abortion, irrespective of whether the tissue within the woman is a human being with full human rights, or not, people make decisions based on their emotions, not logic.

    The Republican Party is using emotion, even now.

    I failed to actually make my point, though. I got caught up in the example and the comment about emotions playing the role, and forgot to add something:

    When you make the statement “If you vote for a Republican, though, no matter how moderate or centrist, if they have support from the national party, you are voting for someone who has said in writing they believe those cells in the petri dish have as much a right to life as that crying toddler. Either they believe this, or they lied to get the support of their party.”

    Your statement implies that believing the contents of a petri dish have as much a right to life as the crying toddler is inextricably tied to denying the right of a woman to end her pregnancy no matter what.

    I do not find it hypocritical to believe in Peter the Petri Dish, yet opt to save Winnie the Whining One Year Old. I can see a Repuglican honestly believing in what he or she signed, yet also believing that it is permissible for a victim of rape or incest to terminate her pregnancy. The resulting bit of tissue in her womb may have the same rights as she does, but there are always cases where some rights are trumped by others.

    It all boils down to how you feel about it.

    BTW, if you vote for _anyone_ you are voting for someone who does not speak for most Americans.

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