Like Jon, I think there is some serious context-dropping when you shift back and forth between examples involving theft of food and killing an innocent person in order to survive. In the case of the theft, we are comparing the temporary loss of the use of personal property until restitution can be made against the loss of one's life. Operating from a normal hierarchy of values, and all other things being equal, it is not difficult to weigh these two options and see that the saving of a life outweighs the property loss. I believe that, along with Rand, we are all basically in agreement on the ethics of that situation.
But in the examples where one must kill another innocent person (and by innocent, I mean someone who is not responsible for placing them in the life-threatening situation that they finds themselves) in order to survive, then we are comparing the loss of one life against another. To extract oneself from whatever circumstances one is facing by killing another is to transfer the responsibility for one's own life and the consequences of one's actions onto that other person, forcing them to pay the price. I judge this to be an immoral act of the highest order.
It does not matter whether the life-threatening circumstances that one faces are the result of a natural calamity, are man-made or are self-inflicted. They are the context of that person's life and must be dealt with as such. It is from this viewpoint that I argue that there is nothing particularly special about emergency situations. The severity of the consequences in these situations may be more extreme than other situations one typically faces, but that is just a matter of degree. To kill another person in order to save one's life is to sacrifice another to oneself. It forces them to pay the ultimate price for one's own predicament, and as has been discussed, there is no form of restitution possible in this case. Bill, you constantly argue, and I agree, that the sacrificing of oneself is morally wrong. But when we get to these examples, you are steadfast in you position that it is a moral prerogative to sacrifice another person on the alter of one's own survival. And while I understand your arguments and see the perspective with this you are viewing this subject, I am still flabbergasted at how many people seem to find this conclusion palatable.
Rand said that there are no conflicts of interest between rational men, and I always thought that, when properly understood, this was one of her greatest insights. However, It is my observation that she failed to properly examine the nature of "emergency" situations and I have long argued that this has created a serious breach in her theory of ethics. Rand's theory of egoism posits that we are each responsible for our own lives, and that we must provide for our own survival through the productive use of our mind and body, neither sacrificing ourselves to others nor others to ourselves. During the course of our lives we face many potential threats that we must endeavor to anticipate and address to the best of our abilities. Our neighbors might attack us; we might contract a life-threatening illness; a drought might wipe out our crops; the demand for our job skills might evaporate; a hurricane might damage our levee; my boat might sink; and so on. Any of these scenarios could place our life in danger, but it remains our responsibility to deal with the consequences. If we can get others to agree to cooperate with respect to some of these actual or potential threats, we may, as a group, be better able to address them, but Objectivism shows that this type of coordination must be voluntary. If participation in an action, say joining the army to defend against foreign aggression, increases the risk to one's life, that is a risk that each individual gets to choose or decline as they see fit. But whatever choices are made, there can be no forced sacrificing of another, regardless of the personal cost-benefit analysis one performs - because one's life is one's own!
There is nothing special about an emergency situation that could possibly justify the cessation or inversion of ethics such that sacrifice of others becomes a moral imperative. Each person retains the inviolable right to their own lives, and because of this simple fact, even in emergency situations there is no conflict of interest between rational men - men who understand and respect the rights of others.
Okay, so if I understand you correctly, you're arguing as follows: The victim has a right to life under any and all circumstances. Therefore, the rapist ought not to kill her even if doing so is necessary to his survival. [...] you're making rights your moral primary.
You argue that I reify the concept of human rights to a position of moral primary or absolute, and because of that view, you will challenge my conclusion in the preceding paragraph. However, you are not understanding me at all. The point I am making is that a person's rights reside with that individual and not with any outside party. Those rights are a moral reformulation of a recognition of our human nature. Among them, we each possess a right to our own life. No, that right to life is not some sort of moral absolute, because we can take actions that invalidate it. If a person murders another in cold blood, they forfeit the right to their own life and may be executed. The important point to recognize is that the possession of a right can only be given up by the actions of its owner. No third party has a moral right to it. In the rape example, the victim retains her right to life and therefore, I do argue in the strongest possible terms that the rapist should respect that right and ought not to murder her, regardless of the circumstances he may face, because those circumstances are immaterial to the status of her rights. Of course, from a practical standpoint, there is little chance of reasoning with a rapist, and he is going to do whatever he does, regardless of the proper application of a moral code. But that doesn't change what the rapist ought to do. On the other hand, the victim may kill the rapist in an act of self defense because the rapist has forfeited his rights through the act of aggression he perpetrated.
You continue to argue that in situations like these there is a conflict of interests between the parties. You then use this recognition of a conflict to categorize the situation as an "emergency" which then allows you to argue that morality no longer applies (because of a disastrous quote from Rand that, I suggest, was formulated in error), which leads you to offer justification for rapists killing victims and morally excusing B from killing C because of A's threat. The solution to this mess is to realize that, yes, there may be conflicts of interests in these situations, but the conflicts arise precisely because people are not acting rationally. And the failure in rationality can, in almost every case, be traced back to a failure to recognize and respect another person's right to life.