Trolley Problem


Mackenzie Vuu, Writer

The trolley problem is an ethical thought process invented by philosopher Philippa Foot in 1967. It goes like this: You’re the driver of a trolley. The trolley’s brakes have stopped working and you’re flying down the tracks, too fast to safely slow to a stop. Straight down the tracks there are several workers working on the tracks. If you do nothing, the trolley will hit these workers and they will all be killed. On another track there is one worker. You see a lever in the middle of the tracks. If you pull it, it will switch the tracks and only hit the one worker instead of several. What do you do?

Your first option is to do nothing. If you don’t pull the lever and the trolley keeps going down the same track the trolley will hit the several workers but the same thing would happen if you weren’t on the trolley so can you really be held responsible for their deaths? Second option is to pull the lever and kill one person instead of several. At first glance 1<7 and killing one person isn’t as bad as killing seven but in this case you made the conscious choice to kill someone and it would 100% be your fault if the person died. 

Another problem like it goes like this: You’re a doctor and you have seven deathly ill patients that all need a different kind of transplant to live. There is one patient that is in perfect health and is a perfect match for all of the seven patients. You could decide to let the seven die or you could take all the organs you need from the one healthy patient so save the other seven but kill him. This is the same problem but a more extreme wording. If you did nothing the seven die or you could decide to kill one person to save seven.

This thought problem is famous for not having an answer but it presents people with an interesting thing to think about. How would you determine the value of human life?