Sci-Fi Writer Stumps Pro-Lifers With Brilliant Philosophical Argument On Abortion

By on October 17, 2017

A science fiction writer is presenting opponents of abortion with a perplexing puzzle that is leaving many of them stumped.

Patrick S. Tomlinson, a science fiction author who also writes occasional op-eds for the Hill, sent out a series of tweets that explained in vivid detail why the pro-life movement should reconsider how they view unborn fetuses and embryos.

Tomlinson rejects the idea that life begins at conception, tweeting out that he has had “a question [he’s] been asking for ten years now” that “no one has EVER answered honestly.”

The question is pretty simple, and relies very little on abstract hypotheticals that often trip up such debates. It relies on the person being asked the question to make a choice: in the event of a fire (or other similar dangerous situation) where you could only pick one, would you save a child’s life, or 1,000 frozen embryos?

“You know you can grab one or the other, but not both before you succumb to smoke inhalation and die, saving no one,” Tomlinson wrote. “Do you A) save the child, or B) save the thousand embryos?” he asks.

To him, the answer is obvious. “We all instinctively understand the right answer is ‘A,’ he writes. “A human child is worth more than a thousand embryos. Or ten thousand. Or a million. Because they are not the same, not morally, not ethically, not biologically.”

Tomlinson further adds that he doesn’t believe embryos aren’t worth anything, or shouldn’t be values. But he does assert, “all that is being demonstrated is their value is not equal to that of a human child.”

That argument does place embryos in a separate category than what the pro-life crowd tries to paint them in. Tomlinson argues that a case can be made that they are “alive,” but certainly they are not alive in the same way a person, or a child, is alive.

The argument confounds pro-lifers because it makes them consider a separate category for embryos and fetuses — a third category they’ve been taught to reject. But they cannot morally do so under this scenario, because clearly a million embryos are not equivalent to the life of one, living, breathing child.

The argument presented by Tomlinson is perhaps the best defense of abortion since Judith Jarvis Thomson offered the idea of a violinist being connected to an unwitting person. In Thomson’s treatise, she insists that a brilliant concert violinist cannot be biologically attached to an unwilling participant, even if that violinist’s life depends on it. In her analogy, the violinist represents an embryo or fetus.

Tomlinson’s updated argument builds upon Thomson’s, and distinguishes between life and the potential for life in his story problem.