Killing vs. Letting Die: Trolley Problem
Killing and Letting Die | To discuss the trolley problem critically and the relative outside views| | The trolley problem; the choice is yours to decide whether or not the lives of five people are saved by the sacrifice of another person. This moral paradox mirrors real-life implications in politics, society and war. In terms of killing and letting die: are we morally obligated to kill in order to save a larger group of people? It may seem that the moral standings of killing and letting die are the same as a life for lives seems completely rational.
However, killing and letting die are completely separate identities as they operate on distinct plateaus of the human mind. Ultimately, killing is morally worse than letting die as it unfairly treats people as a means to promote other people (even if it prevents the death of a greater number of people). An intervention which is crafted to end the life of another is considered far worse than letting death take the life, which will be further discussed through the consent assumption, difference between diverting harm & causing harm, and the Christian view & deontological ethics.
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Within the confines of the trolley problem, we see a life versus five lives. Most people see that one life is worth less than five lives. This is true only if the one life would have died anyways. The assumption made in the dilemma is that the one person on the alternate track is just a means to save the others. We effectively ignore the consent of the other person who would have otherwise not have been involved. Moreover, one does not divert harm by changing the path the trolley takes; rather harm is caused by this decision and effectively killing the person who had no reason to be in this problem.
Revisiting the consent assumption, we can picture another scenario: There are five sick patients who need five different organs or they will die, and a completely healthy person walks in the hospital for a check-up. As the decision-maker, would you kill the healthy person in order to save the five patients who would otherwise die? (BBC UK). This is another situation where a life is given up in order to save five other lives. Most people would say that it is impermissible to kill the healthy person in order to save the five dying patients.
For that reason, there is no difference between this problem and the trolley problem since another life is given up to save five others thereby we can conclude killing is a higher moral sin than letting die. In addition, followers of Christianity and Immanuel Kant agree that killing is the darker of the two euthanasia. “Christians should never intend death, for God is sovereign over such matters. On the other hand, Christian physicians and their patients may accept death, bowing to God’s sovereignty, with peace and the joyous hope that good will come out of it”, (Kilner).
They do not sponsor the intention of death under any circumstances, but they will let die the ones who are meant to die. In simple context, Immanuel Kant and his deontological ethics share some similarities with the Christian view. In deontological ethics, the result does not establish what is moral. Kant states that the action itself determines the morality, instead of the consequences of the decision. In the case of killing one innocent person to save more people, it is not a morally permissible action because killing is immoral in all cases (First Philosophy).
Passive euthanasia is more moral than active euthanasia as shown through the consent assumption where we assume that person is willing to die, the causing of harm of the uninvolved through the consent assumption, the support factors of the Christian view which state death is immoral if intended, and the reinforcement by deontological ethics pioneered by Immanuel Kant which illustrate that morality is determined by the action as opposed to the consequence of the action.
The utilitarianism view and the Smith & Jones case are some of the challengers which believe killing is morally equivalent to letting die. Utilitarianism was first crafted by Jeremy Bentham and later “revised” by John Mill; it was a way to quantify the measurable properties such as intensity and duration in order to judge whether an action is permissible. A permissible action would be the action that provides the greatest balance of pleasure over pain. In this view, we look at the moral standing from a consequential view; the results are what matter morally.
Utilitarianism puts numbers ahead of the true moral indicator; which is the action itself. In the case of the trolley problem, utilitarianism actually promotes killing in order to keep the numbers a higher amount. There is no regard for the uninvolved since the utilitarian view assumes that the death of one person provides less pain that the death of five people. We must understand that the lives of other people are not a means to prolong another’s unless consented. In this case, the killing of the uninvolved would provide more pain than pleasure.
The pain of causing harm, killing someone who did not consent, and taking away the life of someone who would have been otherwise uninvolved is greater than the pleasure. The lives of the five people were going to die if there wasn’t a decision maker possibly saving them. There is less moral justice in killing an innocent person to prolong the lives of other people compared to letting them die. In addition to the wrongful prolonging of life by sacrifice of another, the Smith and Jones case also hold a false moral stance: Smith and Jones would gain enormously through inheritance if their six year old nephew were to die.
Jones decides to kill the nephew while the boy is taking a bath – by pushing him over, knocking his head on the edge of the bath thereby rendering him unconscious, drowning him underwater if necessary, and then making the whole thing look like an accident. Drowning the child was not needed. Smith has the same intent for his nephew, but he finds that the boy accidently fell over and knocked his head making him unconscious. Smith also waits for the boy to emerge in order to drown him if necessary. It is also not necessary. In this scenario, both nephews are dead.
Jones killed his nephew, while Smith let his nephew die (Killing & Letting Die: Bare differences and clear differences). This scenario creates the illusion that killing and letting die are morally equivalent. Although Smith let his nephew die as opposed to directly killing him, he still killed his nephew. Smith’s desire for his nephew’s death the negligence of his obligation as the caregiver renders him in the category of killing rather than letting die. Therefore, the Jones and Smith case does not show that killing and letting die are the same.
Active euthanasia is less moral than passive euthanasia due to the fact that other people’s lives are not a means to prolong another’s. In order to clearly contrast the differences between killing and letting die; the trolley problem must be altered so that it challenges some key assumptions. To show how the trolley problem illustrates that killing is worse than letting die is to add information. We will add that the person on the alternate set of tracks or the large man do not give consent to give his life to save the five people. Suddenly, the problem steps out of the numbers game and we now treat the person truly as a person.
This challenges the primary assumption that the person in the alternate route is a diversion of the harm; but rather it is not. Harm is effectively caused to someone who would have not been in the dilemma. In order to be truly moral, we must step back as decision-makers and leave the outcome to what it was meant to be. Killing disrespects people and treats them as a means to promote the lives of others. Letting die just follows what would have happened anyways if the decision-maker was not present. There is no moral justice in taking a life since a life is not the means to an end.
A consent aspect implicates ones decision make as demonstrated in the reconfigured trolley problem. If consent was not given, changing the path to save the five people would be causing harm to someone who would have not been involved. It is morally wrong to use an uninvolved innocent life to promote the lives of others. If consent were given, we can believe that the person on the secondary path would die anyways thereby diverting harm rather than causing it. It helps the decision maker to understand that another’s life is not just a means to save another, and ultimately active euthanasia is worse than passive euthanasia.
In a world where there is no right answer- the less wrong holds the place as the right choice.
Works Cited First Philosophy. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2011. BBC UK. Active and Passive Euthanasia. 2012. 15 October 2012 <http://www. bbc. co. uk/ethics/euthanasia/overview/activepassive_1. shtml>. “Killing & Letting Die: Bare differences and clear differences. ” 15 April 1996. University of Colorado. 15 October 2012 <http://www. colorado. edu/philosophy/paper_oddie_K&LD. pdf>. Kilner, J. F. Dignity and Dying: A Christian Appraisal. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1996. 69-83.