Today’s thought experiment will in fact be 3 thought experiments. As these thought experiments are put forward, I recommend considering your answer and make a decision as you read each thought experiment. This is because the 2nd and 3rd thought experiment may influence your decision on the 1st.
The first thought experiment comes from Phillipa Foot. Imagine there is a runaway trolley about to drive into 5 people. You have no means of saving the 5 people other than a lever you have access to that will divert the trolley onto another track. However, there is 1 person on the other track, which will be hit by the trolley if you pull the lever.
The queston Foot asks us is: Would you pull the lever and have 1 person die or would you not pull the lever and have 5 people die?
After making your decision, consider this thought experiment made by J. Thomson: There is a runaway trolley about to drive into 5 people. You have no means of saving the 5 people other than pushing a fat man off a bridge who will fall in line with the trolley and will be large enough to stop the trolley (the assumption is that the fat man is able to stop the trolley but you are not, ruling out the possibility of self-sacrifice).
The question Thomson asks us is: Would you push the fat man off the bridge and have 1 person die or not push the fat man off the bridge and have 5 people die?
After thinking about this thought experiment, the last is also by Thomson, which is: You are a doctor who has 5 patients that all need an organ donation to survive, each needing a different organ. And they need them in the next 24 hours in order or they will die. You have a patient come in who is compatible with all of the other patients who would be able to donate these organs, but of course would die in such a procedure.
The question Thomson asks us is: would you kill the patient in order to save the other 5, or would you not kill the other patients in order to save the other 5?
Were your answers consistent or inconsistent? Did some answers involve saving 5 people and others not involve saving 5 people? Do you think all 3 thought experiments are morally the same? Or do you think there are morally relevant differences? If yes or no, why or why not?