A (more or less) creative solution to the trolley problem

“Please, don’t kill me!”
“Why not?”
“Well, uh …”
Igor, a mindless sadistic helper, and Van Helsing in “Van Helsing” (2004)

In case you have never heard about the “Trolley problem”, have a look at the Wikipedia site. Personally, I do not think that it is such a dilemma. I would not push the “fat man” (talking about obesity stigmatization here), but I would change the track switch.

The reason is actually quite simple.

I would not want to commit murder by pushing someone uninvolved onto the tracks. Using this person as a barrier seems cruel and unjust to me. This person had no idea of the risk of standing on that bridge.

However, switching the track and killing one to save five wouldn’t be a contradiction here. That one person knew s/he was standing on tracks. S/he had to know that there was a risk of an approaching train (or trolley car). This person is not uninvolved — this person was part of the “risky” situation, by standing on the tracks.

Of course, this is an “all things being equal” scenario. If it were a partner or child in danger, strangers wouldn’t stand a chance.

So, for me the trolley problem isn’t really a problem. However, how about this situation:

You are in a situation where you have to push a person to his/her death to save people you love. There are two people, one of whom you have to push. They are equal in all regards except one. The first person is a very religious person who thinks that s/he will get into heaven when s/he dies. The second person does not believe in an afterlife and wants to enjoy life as long as s/he is alive. The religious person cannot kill himself/herself, as suicide would get him/her straight to hell. The other person will not kill himself/herself.

Whom do you push?

Personally, I would push the religious person. While I am an agnostic I would not apply my own beliefs to this person and respect his/her religious freedom. In contrast to the other person, the religious one does believe that s/he will get to a better place if s/he is dead.

I think it would be the “right” thing to do in a bad situation.

But I am curious, what would you do?


  1. What if the fat man is standing on a train track next to the dangerous track on which the train is approaching. There train could have been on his track, but by cheer luck it is not. So the man is part of the risky situation. You are strong enough. Would you push?

  2. Damn, that is a really good question … I’ll have to think about it regarding the possible scenarios. 🙂

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