Would you kill the older people?
Philosophers have long used the "trolley problem" to debate issues in ethics around how we treat others.
Reading a recent personal blog by Marc Dubois, Executive Director of MSF UK, on why older people are ignored in humanitarian emergencies got me thinking about the trolley problem in terms of older people.
Five or one?
Developed originally by Philippa Foot in 1967, the trolley problem poses a simple ethical problem that you can read in its entirety here. But below is the relevant bit!
A runaway trolley is hurtling down the track with no brakes. Ahead, five people are tied to the rails. You are standing on the side of the track. By turning a lever you can divert the trolley down a side track. That will save five lives. Unfortunately, one man is on this side track, and he would be killed.
What should you do?
Studies have shown that 90% of respondents think it is right to divert the trolley. But what if the choice was not so one-sided in its impact i.e. number of lives saved?
What if the choice had to be made (removing the option of doing nothing at all) and one had to decide on the type of people you saved?
The Aid trolley
So keeping that in mind, let me pose another "trolley problem" this time in terms of disaster aid.
You are back at the track. A huge typhoon has wiped out everything in the next town. Luckily the neighbouring town up the track has pulled together all it can spare and loaded a trolley with food and relief supplies and sent it on its way. The trolley is headed for the station at the disaster-ridden town and can stop at one of two platforms in the station. One is next to an orphanage with five children. The other is next to an older people's home with five older people.
By turning the lever you can divert the trolley down one platform to save either the five children, killing the five older people in the process or save the five older people, killing the five children in the process. By not turning the lever the trolley will go down a third platform that has been destroyed by the hurricane and all the supplies will be wasted.
What should you do? (Leave a comment in the box below)
This blog in no way represents the views of HelpAge International. This blog was inspired by an excerpt from the book "Would you kill the fat man?" in Foreign Affairs magazine by David Edmonds.