Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Playing God

On the trolley problem, we are put into a position where if we do nothing five people die and if we act and pull the lever then only one person dies. It seems obvious that we should pull the lever, right? For some, apparently not.

I remember having a conversation with some friends about this, and one of them objected that he wouldn't pull the lever because that would make him responsible for that one person's death. That the one person was unavoidably put into harm's way by his action to pull the lever. So even if 5 people died as a result of his inaction, at least without acting he has no responsibility for what happened.

Yet isn't walking away from making a choice, making a choice? Choosing not to pull the lever when you had the power to do otherwise is making a decision that would kill 5. If you could have done otherwise, you're responsible either way.

Consider a parallel case where you're trying to escape from a burning fire. Carrying your dog, you're making your way to the exit. As your getting close and the fire is raging around you, you hear a child cry out. There's no time to first take the dog to safety then come back for the child, you have to make a choice. Either let the child die or let the dog die.

Would you say to the parents of that child that it's not your responsibility? You didn't put the child in harm's way, and by saving the child it meant letting your dog, who would otherwise be saved, perish. It's a horrible fate for the baby, but you didn't want to play God.

Do you think they would be convinced? Are you?

1 comment:

themaverickjester said...

Sadly, I think that there are some people who would choose the dog over the child.