The parable is rather famous, and I referred to it obliquely in my article, “The Political Economy of Non-Coercive Vampire Lifestyles,” forthcoming in the volume The Undead and Philosophy. The article asks what implications follow from treating vampires as possessing moral personhood. Here’s the key bit that invokes Singer’s drowning baby parable:
If a pint of blood could save the life of a human child, while causing the donor only temporary weakness, the moral correctness of the sacrifice would hardly be in doubt. With vampires on equal moral footing with humans, a similar sacrifice would be justified to save a vampire child.Interestingly, part of James’s response to the drowning baby parable relied on the difficulty of implementing the principle when the demands are too great – e.g., when one encounters a whole field of drowning babies.
But isn’t there an important difference between the obligation to help a particular individual in danger, e.g., by rescuing a child drowning in a shallow pool, and the obligation to help many anonymous people on a regular basis, e.g., by making frequent donations to UNICEF? Singer and Unger both argue otherwise, contending that the two scenarios are morally equivalent, or at least similar. Both affirm a simple principle: “If we can prevent something bad without sacrificing anything of comparable significance, we ought to do it.” That principle, when applied to the vampire dilemma, would mandate regular contributions of blood to vampires in need.
The claim is not just ethical, but also political; for while voluntarism might be nice, it is not necessary in the welfarist mindset. Both Singer and Unger affirm that full implementation of their principle would mandate massive increases in government aid to foreign nations to abate starvation and disease. … But the same principle that justifies massive aid to needy humans in foreign countries also justifies massive aid to needy vampires at home. Both blood and money donations meet the requirements of Singer and Unger’s principle, so long as the amounts donated per capita aren’t too large. We could easily imagine Blade-style mandatory blood banks as the logical implication of welfarist policy if we accept the notion of vampire personhood.