Wednesday, July 26, 2006

MM Part II

Please read Part I below first.

The truth is, we face complicated decisions like this every day. Our minds are wired to deal with these problems. We have even developed ways of representing the decisions using numeric values. Some may think it’s a little unfeeling to attach a numeric value to a human life, but we do it all the time, usually by monetizing the value as in the realm of insurance and cost-benefit analyses in the product liability context.

So why don’t we try it here. I’m not an economist so I may screw this up a little, but we’ll see. First let’s attach an arbitrary value to each life. The actual value attached is not as important as the relation of the values to each other. So let’s just say that all ten human lives are equal. Let’s also say that the value of the embryo is equal to that of a post fetal human (I do not think that this is the case, nor are there many in America who do). So let’s give everyone involved a value of 1 (and let’s also make it money). And now let’s look at the effect on our hypo. We have two choices: A) don’t throw the switch, and B) throw the switch. Under choice (A) there is a 100% chance of the ten people dying. There is also (under the easy set of assumptions) a 100% chance of the embryo surviving. So if we choose (A), we we are left with $1.

Choice (B) is slightly more complicated (update: actually, it’s not more complicated) but we can still arrive at a monetary value for it by discounting for the odds. So under choice (B) there is a sixty percent chance of ten people living. So the discounted value of choice (B) is $6. You would have to be an idiot to pick (A)!! That or you would have to value an embryo six times more than you value a living breathing member of society. Even anti-abortionists don’t support those kinds of numbers.

Of course, I picked random numbers and random percentages. But they still illustrate the point that it is possible to make a reasoned decision on the point. If for instance, there is only a 10% chance of embryonic stem cell research curing the diseases of 100,000 people, then, assuming that we value an embryo to the same extent as we value a post fetal human, we should be willing to sacrifice 1000 embryos in order to realize the 10% chance of curing 100,000. Now if embryonic stem cell research has the potential to produce a cure for Parkinson’s, Alzeimers, cancer, and other diseases, the number of potentially saved humans is quite high. Even if there is a less than 10% chance of actually finding a cure through the research, we should still be willing to use a fairly large number of embryos to find some cures, especially since it is difficult to sustain an argument that an actual living human being should be valued the same as an undeveloped embryo, of which millions are naturally aborted every year.

Food for thought.


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