Ramesh, your e-mailer makes a nice point, and it’s one you and others have made before: choosing, say, to save a loved one over a stranger when you can only save one doesn’t give you the right to then go around killing strangers on purpose.
But the old “fire in a fertility clinic” example raises another important point. It’s an example, after all, of a kind of triage thinking. Posit an emergency situation in which you have to quickly choose among the living because all are in grave danger—who do you help? In such advanced triage conditions, you choose to help the strongest, not the weakest, because the strongest are more likely to be able to benefit from your help (given the circumstances). What Sullivan and others (many others, alas) imply by raising the burning building scenario to make their point is that we should always behave as though we’re in a triage situation—that we should draw lessons about life in general from how we operate in such situations. That means, in practice, that they want us to always choose the interests of the stronger over the weaker. And that, in turn, is exactly the logic of destroying embryos to see if they might provide some information useful for medical research that might help the rest of us.
People who make this point don’t, as a general matter, have this attitude about life; they don’t always support the strong over the weak. But the embryo debate (and its connection with the abortion debate) causes them to take leave of their principles and sacrifice egalitarianism at the altar of health, or choice, or just jabbing at “Christianists” (persuading themselves all the while, of course, that they can do this because embryos are not human beings for an assortment of flimsy reasons having mostly to do, again, with the weakness of the embryo or fetus).
Liberal egalitarianism is, sadly, one of the many victims of abortion and embryo research.