The Trolley Problem

Nov 2013
2,148
889
NM
#22
I remember discussing the Trolley Problem in my college years and wanted to get the groups input. The fact that early versions of this came out of the University of Wisconsin has nothing to do with it ;)

For those unaware, the base of the philosophical problem is very basic.

You see a trolley (train) coming down the tracks and there are five people tied to the rails. They are certain to be killed. You are standing next to a lever that will divert the trolley to a side track, saving the five people. However, one person is tied to the side track. What is the more ethical option?
1. You allow nature to take it's course and five people will die. You had nothing to do with it.
2. If you pull the lever, you have a direct hand in killing one person.

...
Yah, this is a thought experiment, except that I'm more used to seeing these in physics, where's it's usually more convenient to do these experiments in virtual mode than to try to set them up in the real World.

& it's not letting nature to take it's course - the trolley & track aren't natural, nor is the situation of the five potential victims (tied to the track). Someone - presumably human - has engineered the situation.

That said, & absent any other information (or time in which to gather & act on it) I'd probably throw the switch, & save four people. With enough time, I'd rather have boarded the train & applied the brakes there, or derailed the thing altogether, saving everyone. But if there's not enough time, there's not enough time.

The pragmatic course is, you save everyone you can. If all other options are foreclosed, this sounds like the most ethical option. By a process of elimination, this may be the only ethical choice there is. I would think that most people, forced to choose, would still have nightmares about the outcome, whatever it may be.
 
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Dec 2018
659
392
Wisconsin
#23
The pragmatic course is, you save everyone you can. If all other options are foreclosed, this sounds like the most ethical option. By a process of elimination, this may be the only ethical choice there is. I would think that most people, forced to choose, would still have nightmares about the outcome, whatever it may be.
This actually where I think the conversation leads to. I agree that given no additional information, yes most people would pull the lever. On the surface, losing one life is better than losing five. But if instead of pulling a lever you push someone in the way which would stop the train (still one person dies and five live), most people won't do it.

But you mentioned that most would still have nightmares and that's the heart of it. I think the value of life within the community is dependent on the harm of life for ourselves. If I can save five lives by pulling a level, that's one thing. But if I can save one life by physically putting my hands on someone who will die because of my choice, the long-term harm on myself changes the way I perceive the value of life.

We most certainly as human beings are social animals and are not intended to live in isolation. We thrive in a community. But most of us look out for our own self interest when determining how much we care about the community.
 
Nov 2013
2,148
889
NM
#24
Wow.........

Making those decisions seems too much to put on people.

How about a lottery?
There's a lot of pain in the World, & we're all to be admired or pitied (or both, alternately?), as we make our way through the World as best we can. But as a society, we need to exemplify our values. Was it Crosby of Crosby Stills & Nash that personified this puzzle not that long ago? He was a talented musician, but he'd led a dissipated life, that greatly contributed to his health problems. Between that record & his age & generally poor physical condition - Would it have been wise to allocate scarce resources to him to keep him alive & functioning?

If it had been eminent physicist Stephen Hawking, I'd have had no problem allocating all the resources necessary to keep him going - as he had already contributed mightily to the study of physics, & anything extra would be a bonus. We need people in that decision-making loop, because mere celebrity isn't (IMO) sufficient reason to keep people alive with heroic medical efforts.

A lottery would be a severely reductionist solution to the problem of resource allocation - certainly just in its way, I suppose, but ignorant of human motivations, & with no more consideration of individual cases than a filing cabinet would show. Some decisions should be painful, & troubling. @ the place where budgets & scarcity & human need intersect, I say we need people there to judge which lives are human & require all possible human effort to conserve them.
 
Dec 2018
659
392
Wisconsin
#25
This, unfortunately is something that must be done regularly by some people. Although supposedly the ranking of persons on the list to get a transplant is logically arrived at based on a variety of documented characteristics, many of them are themselves somewhat arbitrary. Where this hit me is that for about 8 months Mrs. RNG was on a panel that chose who would get some new cancer treatment which was very limited. So there is a guy who is a respected businessman, philanthropist, church deacon and pillar of the community. But he's 63 and has had a serious heart attack. Then there is Joe Average, otherwise healthy but has an average job and other than that mostly watches TV, with his 3 young kids. Then there's the young rebel, did time, part time doper but an amazingly talented artist. Only one can get it.

After 8 months it became to much for her and she quit. And I don't blame her. BTW, the above is a real case, there were a couple more candidates but I forget the details about them.

Now in the naked case in the OP, assuming I didn't know anything about the 6 persons involved I would pull the switch. This case is different.
Playing God | Radiolab | WNYC Studios

This is a remarkable/tragic story about how this kind of scenario was played out during Hurricane Katrina. Allegedly, doctors had limited resources and some circumstances required them to decide which victims would receive treatment and which ones wouldn't.

I can't even imagine
 
Nov 2013
2,148
889
NM
#26
Playing God | Radiolab | WNYC Studios

This is a remarkable/tragic story about how this kind of scenario was played out during Hurricane Katrina. Allegedly, doctors had limited resources and some circumstances required them to decide which victims would receive treatment and which ones wouldn't.

I can't even imagine
Doctors have an advantage over civilians in these situations. Triage is a working concept in medicine, especially in military medicine &, I imagine, in hospitals in areas that see a lot of violent crime - stabbings, shootings, etc. Intellectually, @ least, doctors know that they might have to revert to military/mass disaster rules of triage, & in fact they (some hospitals) practice for mass casualties from time to time.

So doctors - especially in ERs & anywhere else that practices against the day they might have such a disaster on their hands - already are familiar with their protocols, & which wounds can be treated quickly, & which wounds are mortal, & require too much time, effort, or supplies to attend to in a crisis. It is a terrifying scenario, & one reason that medicine is a calling, & not merely a business.
 
Dec 2018
659
392
Wisconsin
#27
Doctors have an advantage over civilians in these situations. Triage is a working concept in medicine, especially in military medicine &, I imagine, in hospitals in areas that see a lot of violent crime - stabbings, shootings, etc. Intellectually, @ least, doctors know that they might have to revert to military/mass disaster rules of triage, & in fact they (some hospitals) practice for mass casualties from time to time.

So doctors - especially in ERs & anywhere else that practices against the day they might have such a disaster on their hands - already are familiar with their protocols, & which wounds can be treated quickly, & which wounds are mortal, & require too much time, effort, or supplies to attend to in a crisis. It is a terrifying scenario, & one reason that medicine is a calling, & not merely a business.
The radiolab link I posted is a little different than that...
 
Nov 2013
2,148
889
NM
#28
The radiolab link I posted is a little different than that...
OK, our library has Fink's book (Five days @ Memorial), I'll read that. I was aware of the issues in FL (was it? Why does FL seem to get all the horrors?) - it's appalling that the state doesn't require emergency plans for retirement & nursing homes, & any residential arrangements for older or medically impaired long-term patients. Especially given that this kind of stuff - hurricanes, 'gator/snake infestations, sinkholes, potable water shortages, sewer runoff contamination issues, irrigation/nitrate/fertilizer runoff issues, power grid & transport grid problems - seems to be endemic to FL anyway.
 
Last edited:
Oct 2010
64,152
25,240
Colorado
#30
This actually where I think the conversation leads to. I agree that given no additional information, yes most people would pull the lever. On the surface, losing one life is better than losing five. But if instead of pulling a lever you push someone in the way which would stop the train (still one person dies and five live), most people won't do it.

But you mentioned that most would still have nightmares and that's the heart of it. I think the value of life within the community is dependent on the harm of life for ourselves. If I can save five lives by pulling a level, that's one thing. But if I can save one life by physically putting my hands on someone who will die because of my choice, the long-term harm on myself changes the way I perceive the value of life.

We most certainly as human beings are social animals and are not intended to live in isolation. We thrive in a community. But most of us look out for our own self interest when determining how much we care about the community.
Heck, even Jesus said we're to love others as we love ourselves...... :cool:
 
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