Melinda Penner nails the primary reason the example fails: It proves absolutely nothing. She writes:
The only reason it's a dilemma is because it pits the value of both against each other. A dilemma is a difficult choice pitting competing values against one another. It wouldn't be a dilemma if there weren't two valuable things at stake. Something valuable is going to be lost with either choice. So the fact that it's a dilemma assumes the value of the embryos, otherwise it would be easy.Precisely.
I'd probably grab the baby, assuming it was as easy to grab as the embryos, only because of it's viability to survive since the embryos need to remain frozen. After all, the point of saving someone is survival. The embryos are unlikely to survive the rescue in any case because they require strict conditions that probably can't be found in such an emergency. The baby will survive with easily provided help.
Now new variable could be introduced to the dilemma that change that survival calculation - a lab nearby could keep the embryos in their optimum condition, the baby has a terminal disease, etc. There are circumstances where I'd choose the embryos. But it's that issue of survival that determines the choice, not that deep down I think one is really more valuable than the other one. So the dilemma just doesn't prove anything.
I'd also probably save a 30-year-old gall bladder patient over someone hooked up to a respirator from a hospital fire for the same reason, but that doesn't mean one is more valuable than the other. (Emph. added)
There are other problems with Goodman's case. Here's what I said for an upcoming publication:
First, how does choosing to save one human being over another prove the one left behind is not human? Given a choice between saving my daughter and a building full of other people, I would save my own kid. Would that prove the others were not human beings?Ramesh Ponnuru demonstrates just how crazy the alleged research dilemma really is with the following considerations:
Second, the debate over embryonic stem cell research is not about choosing who we’re going to save—as in the case of the burning lab. It's about who we're going to deliberately kill to benefit us. Saving my own kid first is permissible. Shooting those left behind is not, even if it would increase my chances of escape.
Third, moral intuitions are important but they are not infallible. We must examine them in light of reason. A little over a century ago, many Whites thought it unthinkable that anyone would consider Black slaves human beings. Hadley Arkes recounts one such example from chapter 32 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, where Huck contrives a story to explain to Aunt Sally his late arrival by boat:
“We blowed out a cylinder head.”
“Good gracious! Anybody hurt?”
“No’m. Killed a nigger.”
“Well, it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt.”
Notice it’s simply assumed the black man is not one of us. Thus, it’s no stretch to imagine a proponent of slavery putting the following challenge to a northern abolitionist: “Your barn is burning. You have a choice of saving a Negro slave or a white schoolboy. Which would you choose?” If a majority of abolitionists leave the black kid behind, does that change the kind of thing he is or, more to the point, justify us killing him to get the white kid out?
If I were in a burning building and in one room was a neighbor's three-week old triplets and in another was your own nine-year old daughter, and I only had time to get into and out of one room safely, who would I rescue?
If I were in a burning building and in one room was the healthy mother of four small children who were utterly dependent on her, and in another were two patients in the final stages of terminal cancer, who would I rescue?
If I were in a burning building and in one room was a research scientist who was making great strides towards a cure for Alzheimer's and in another room were four heroin addicted fifty-eight year old men who move in and out of the penal system and will likely do so for the rest of their lives, who would I rescue?
If I were in a burning building and in one room was a five-year old child and in another were seven people in comas, who would I rescue?
If I were in a burning building and in one room was a five-year-old child and in another were two older women suffering from advanced cases of Parkinson's disease, who would I rescue?
If I were in a burning building and in one room were five men and in another were three pregnant women, who would I rescue?
I could go on.
Answers to any of these questions do not justify actually killing anybody or treating anybody as unequal to anybody else precisely in respect to basic human dignity and the right to life (i.e., the right not to be killed or have one's life used as a mere means to benefit others). In all of these cases, there is no question of my actually killing anyone. The question would be whether I was showing unfair favoritism toward some over others. In answering that question, all kind of things become relevant that would not be relevant to a decision on whther to kill: family ties, the life prospects of the potential rescued beings, the suffering they would undergo if not rescued, etc. (Emp. added)