Must one’s values always remain consistent even in extreme conditions? Must extreme conditions be considered in order to legitimately form values?
Imagine a pair of conjoined twins, joined at the chest. They are toddler-age. Doctors are sure the twins will not survive past age 10, 15 at the most. If a separation surgery is performed, one of the twins could live to 25 or perhaps even longer–but the surgery must be performed now and the other twin will die. What is the obligation of a surgeon who has taken a hippocratic oath to “do no harm”? If I was the parent of these twins, what would I instruct the doctors to do?
That latter question is much harder to answer than what would I do if I found out that my wife was pregnant with a child who would be born with extreme, debilitating deformities and someone recommended an abortion. I like to think I’d accept what comes, but I’ve never actually been in that situation. If experience has taught me anything it’s that things are often different when it’s happening to you. Maybe I would do what I like to think I’d do, but there’s a possibility I wouldn’t. Neither option sounds appealing.
Edge cases like these can shake one’s understanding of one’s own values. But at the same time, they’re called edge cases for a reason. Most life-saving surgeries don’t mean certain death for another person. Most child sacrifices aren’t (or rather, I hope, “weren’t”) performed as a sure way to save another child. Most parents considering abortion aren’t facing the prospect of children with grotesque deformities.
Most of us live our lives experiencing some part of a range of common circumstances. Isn’t it reasonable to form our values based on this range? Do we have to take into account possibilities lying outside that range in order to consider our values soundly based? In some cases we probably take those possibilities into account too much, simply because of some cognitive bias, but are there any times when we are obligated to include them in our considerations?
I don’t know the answer to these questions and don’t expect I ever will.