Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person — among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life. (CCC 2270)
Recently I was asked to defend a pro-life question. It had been exploding on Twitter and on news feeds proclaiming to “shut down” the anti-abortion argument with one question. The scenario was “who would you save?” and placed you in a fertility clinic with a fire raging. Upon exiting you are faced with the choice of saving a 5-year-old behind one door or 1000 frozen viable human embryos from another corner of the room, and only one could be saved before the fire would consume everyone. This question was proposed to put pro-lifers in a tough spot; as everyone would chose the 5-year-old, thus “proving” the questioner’s line of thought that the lives of the frozen embryos was not the same as a living child, and the pro-life agenda was not really about saving babies, but controlling women.
I am not a theologian, but knew there was something fundamentally wrong with this line of questioning. It was like the questions of the Pharisees in the gospels, meant to trick Jesus. Yet I didn’t know how to respond. Since the question piqued my interest and I wanted to know the answer, I asked a friend who was an expert in Catholic bioethics, Elliott Bedford PhD, to help me out. He said:
“The argument is a complete non sequitur (meaning, “it does not follow;” it is an invalid argument). Whether one picks the toddler or the embryos says nothing about whether either of them are living human beings. Just because you pick the five-year-old child does not prove anything about the status of the human embryos. The question when life begins is a biological one. The questioner doesn’t step into that arena. His argument is about moral intuition; that we are more morally attached to a five-year-old than an embryo, which is generally true. But it is not at all an argument for when, biologically, human life begins.
Think of the same scenario with a five-year-old and a ten-year-old child in a fire and again, you can only save one. Using the questioner’s logic would “prove” whichever child you did not chose did not have the same human value as the other. Anyone can see that this line of reasoning is nonsense.
As a pro-life community, the argument “we should treat human life with reverence from conception” looks for a rational basis upon which to found our fundamental moral equality as humans: once you are human, you get full and equal moral status.
The biological fact is, the embryos are living human beings.”
I’m sharing this with you today because as a Catholic, when I see things like the original question blowing up all over the Internet, it can be easy to think we have been defeated, and that maybe the Church has it wrong. However, I realized that this man asking the question that “no one could answer” was not asking the right people, and his argument wasn’t valid. As we celebrate and defend the Right to Life during the month of January, let us remember that all life is beautiful and defending it is not about an “agenda” but protecting the most innocent.
Copyright 2018 Michele Faehnle