What would you do in this situation?

  Forum Editor 18:52 22 Jun 07

Over the past week I've been doing some work for an American client who works as a medical ethics consultant. Our conversations necessarily touched on how she works, and she gave me a brief but fascinating insight into the world of ethical dilemmas. I thought it might be interesting to discuss a couple of classics here.

A runaway coal truck is rolling down a rail track. In its path are five people who will be killed unless you, a bystander, flip a switch which will divert it on to another track, where it will kill one person. Should you flip the switch, and if so, why?

  FungusBoggieman 18:58 22 Jun 07

If im in america and flip the switch will I not also get the death sentance for murder?

Then two will die not one.

they say the needs of the many out weight the needs of the few.

  Quickbeam 18:58 22 Jun 07

Could I flip the switch as it's going over the points & spill the contents safely...?

  Kate B 19:03 22 Jun 07

One death is better than five, I guess. Is there a right answer?

  anskyber 19:10 22 Jun 07

I suspect the "answer" is not to flip the switch.

Rather as FungusBoggieman has suggested the action would mean I would be responsible for the death of one person. I may "get off" but litigious as we are now, will I? Will I almost certainly face a civil action from the family of the dead person?

If I do nothing and claim I did not realise I could have saved anyone, I am free....other than my conscience.

Yes, I would flip the switch and take the chance on my position, it would save four lives.

  Fruit Bat /\0/\ 19:14 22 Jun 07

1. Flip the switch kill one
and live with the knowledge your saved 4 lives rather than you killed 1 person.

2. Do nothing
Its not your fault that the wagon ran away, YOU haven't killed anyone.

Humans blame for an act rather than an inaction.

I tend to act and worry about the consquences afterwards. So would probably flip the switch.

  TopCat® 19:15 22 Jun 07

I'd certainly switch the wagon and keep yelling a warning to the single person in the way, if it was feasible. TC.

  wee eddie 19:18 22 Jun 07

against flipping the switch.

Given the information available, I'd flip the switch, but then I'm a Control Freak.

  Bingalau 19:25 22 Jun 07

Flip the switch and blow the consequences. I would quite happily kill one person, if I thought it was going to save the lives of a group of people. Why? Well it's not a choice of between the devil and the deep blue sea. Is it? It seems the correct thing to do.
But I have an idea there is more to this question than meets the eye.

  Stuartli 19:34 22 Jun 07

Flip the switch and shout a warning to the lone individual.

  Forum Editor 19:41 22 Jun 07

Maybe, but consider this. The lone person is on a branch line, safe from harm, unless you act to cause his/her death by flipping that switch - you have to make a conscious decision to kill someone.

If you weren't there the truck would kill the five people anyway. But you are there, and you must decide - do nothing and the inevitable will happen. They don't know you're there. Flip the switch and one person will die, but you will have intervened to cause it - and you'll know that.

Yet it's true isn't it, one death is better than five?

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