A commenter on social media recently attempted to toss a truth-bomb on a pro-life post. The post posed a hypothetical question that went something like this:
Suppose you suddenly find yourself in a room that has caught fire. There is a 6-year-old child in the room with you, and there are dozens of embryos in storage in the room next door. You can only save the child or the embryos. Which do you choose?
This scenario is intended to force you into a seemingly obvious conclusion: You should save the sentient 6-year-old who is screaming and crying and deserves a safe space. After all, his entire life stands before him. The embryos aren’t yet walking around, talking to others and forming relationships. How could you ignore the plight of the 6-year-old?
What this scenario ignores is the fact that all outcomes are tragic. Further, the scenario itself is unrealistic. Few youngsters I know spend their time adjacent to IVF clinics, where embryos are commonly held.
Further, embryos already are endangered before the fire even begins. Freezing and thawing can damage embryos to the point where they can no longer survive. Parents who choose to preserve their remaining embryos because they recognize each is a human life are to be commended. But even those parents are aware of the inherent risks of the preservation process.
Another social media comment on the same thread remarked that under Old Testament law, a pregnant woman’s child was designated as property in the sad event that the glancing blow of another landed upon the baby and killed him or her.
Let us be clear that there are various kinds of laws, some that carry more weight than others. Ancient law might have ascribed some type of material value to a child to compensate the family. Indeed, most embryo adoption contracts today identify embryos as property, not as people (there are a handful of notable state-level exceptions).
The more important distinction is made in moral law. In Jeremiah 1:5, we see God ascribes personhood to each of us before conception. In the Christian world, we often talk about the fact life begins at conception. In reality, our lives are crafted even before that point. Notice: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
It is a sobering reminder that hypothetical scenarios and verbal bomb-throwing are but a distraction from a larger issue: God crafts each person, and conception is merely the earthly marker of his or her arrival in our physical reality.
The 6-year-old and the embryos all have inherent value. There are dozens of moral lenses and frameworks we could use to “make the call” in the event of the fire, but any outcome that involves the life of any child — at any stage of development — ought to grieve us deeply.
If it does not, perhaps we have forgotten the higher calling of the moral law that guides our steps.