Friday, July 10, 2009
Ticking time bomb thought experiment.
In the abortion related post below, Neal asks
about the inherent value of the human zygote.
To help us more objectively consider his question,
I've constructed a little thought experiment
modeled along the lines of the infamous
"ticking time bomb" scenario folks have been
using lately to justify the use of torture
in certain desperately urgent, life-threatening
But with a new twist.
Let's be brief.
Here are the circumstances:
You work at a peculiar little specialty
hospital with three wards.
(see additional details below)
One ward houses an in vitro
fertilization laboratory where couples
with infertility problems go to artificially
inseminate the woman's eggs
and culture them until they're ready
for implanting in the mother's uterus.
There are currently 100 robust fertilized
eggs (zygotes) in the lab, ready for
In the second ward, there are 10 newborn
infants ranging in age from one hour
to two days old. All are premature,
but doing well, all things considered.
In the third ward there are 5 two year
old toddlers who are being treated for
some non life threatening birth defects.
It is 1:50 am. You've been on duty since
1:30 and there are supposed to be two
more people there with you but they
haven't arrived yet. The phone rings.
A voice on the line informs you that
at 2:00 am (ten minutes from now)
a bomb in the building will explode,
destroying the whole building.
You realize that in that short time
frame, you will only have time to
evacuate one ward.
Which lives do you save?
1. The 100 fertilized eggs on ward one?
2. The 10 newborns?
3. The five 2 year olds?
4. Just myself.
You will be lucky if you have time to
do any of the above, but you know you
Go. Do it.
(You see lexrex? I promised there
wouldn't be much time to think.)
There will be an epilogue to the story,
but let's have some discussion first.
What did you decide and why?
Note: You can log your vote in the
survey box above right. The more of
us who vote, the better the data.
(...in theory, of course.)
Some astute readers have ask some logistics
questions. Lets tweak the plot structure a little
to make the question easier to answer.
Since were just making things up here to
(hopefully) illustrate a point, lets say each ward
is its own trailer house, hooked up to a truck,
and you only have time to drive one of them away.
This could mean, of course that your own car
gets blown to smithereens, but hopefully, that's
not the issue, right?
Ok, just in case, well leave
the "cut and run" option on the table.