ethical conundrum

I heard something similar to this at a quaker meeting a while back. What would you do in the following situation?

You’re standing at the bottom of a mountain, by a railroad track. The track comes down off the mountain to a fork. One branch of the fork goes directly off a cliff into a deep ravine. The other glides smoothly off into the distance. Suddenly you see a runaway rail car careening down the mountain towards the fork, with at least two people sticking their heads out the windows waving and yelling for help. You look at the tracks of the fork and see it’s headed for the ravine. Thinking fast, you look around and notice a lever by the fork which appears to switch the tracks to the other branch. However, at the same time you notice a man tied to the tracks of the safe branch. The man is fat. What do you do?

Here are a couple variations:

  • Replace the fat man with a member of your family.
  • The fat man is not tied to the tracks, but rather is standing on it purposefully, trying to commit suicide [I personally find this one rather easy — run him over!]
  • You can’t tell that there’s anyone inside the train car. It looks like a passenger car, but it’s moving too fast to see inside the windows and nobody is hanging their heads out. Still, there could easily be people inside.

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