Abortion, stem cells, western tragedies involving child fatalities – what if the lives that were to come of those would’ve found a cure for cancer?
That, my friends, is an obnoxious argument.
First let me clarify that it is indeed incredibly tragic when children become victims of murder, terrorism, or preventable accidents. It’s tragic when anyone becomes victims to those things, really, because there is always a lingering potential about what someone could possibly turn into and the self-evident right to dignity that we all should have.
But in the loss of existing, and particularly young, lives public mourning in Western societies only thinks of them in that way when it’s someone who had the privileges that made their odds more likely. Much like how the publicity of amber alerts or child tragedies is stronger when victims are white with educated white collar parents (“middle class” is an overused and thus meaningless buzz word), the lengths to which our imagination projects what could’ve been goes further for those already at an advantage. It’s probably true. The boy who died from the Boston Marathon explosions probably had the support to build up confidence and aspirations, and he had the advantages of race, gender, and possibly class to be unconsciously be preferred over others for opportunities in his future. It is incredibly sad that he died for all of these reasons.
The speculative future of lives never lived is a ridiculous concept to dwell on when you’re not on drugs, but it’s still a common rope of desperately impractical arguments that anti-abortion and anti-stem cell advocates grab onto for their cause. They don’t want to speculate on what future potential may be achieved by the people who choose not to have a child at that point in their lives because of that decision –that someone can keep going to school, or will be able to save up money to buy a home or start a business or provide better for the children they have later on. They don’t speculate on the scientific breakthroughs that can come from stem cell research. Instead they ask what scientific breakthroughs can come many decades later if that embryo becomes a human.
The same questions aren’t asked of the premature fatalities in other parts of the world, though. Syrians are already in a hopeless fucking mess. There’s no way that one of the tens of thousands who have been killed would’ve cured cancer, or, I don’t know, grown to lead a movement that could overthrow their current tyranny. The hundreds who died in a sweatshop fire in Bangladesh were only sweatshop workers. They clearly didn’t have the potential in their lives to make medical breakthroughs. What’s the best they could achieve in life? Start a union demanding that workers not get locked into a factory ablaze, that gains momentum as a labour movement and improves the quality of life and size of economy of lower tiered country?
The underlying point that I’m probably doing a terrible job of making here is that public mourning of early deaths is unequally distributed, and it exposes the systemic prejudices that makes us subconsciously value certain types of people over others. People who are already alive, and even those who have grown up with less valued accomplishments because of their circumstances of birth, have potential that we can do something about now, and preventing their deaths all over the world should be a humanitarian concern to which we pay its due attention. We can do more at home than we can abroad with solving the societal problems that perpetuate this bias – and we should do more at home because the motives in serving a role abroad are a separate systemic issue – so donating blood, or to the Red Cross, or towards the hospital bills of victims is a greater contribution to solutions than we can make to the Syrian people or Bangladeshi workers. But don’t minimize the tragedies overseas. And as the audience of the media that capitalizes on news – demand more than a line along the ticker at the bottom of the screen when hundreds of people burn to their deaths because of a complex network of systemic greed. Make empathy economically sustainable, and make it universal.