Sunday, March 13, 2011

A hypothetical choice

There are 3 people on board an airplane excluding the pilot. The plane developed engine trouble in mid-air and is about to crash. There is only one parachute available; and it is not reserved for the pilot as he already has one for himself. Which of the following people do you think should get the parachute? State your reasons.

1) A famous neurosurgeon
2) A celebrity
3) A housewife

Answer this question in no more than 250 words.

I was dumbfounded when I first came upon this question because it presented me with a moral dilemma. Is it right to choose one life over another? By the way, I had to answer this question for assessment purposes in one of my classes. Being the morally oriented person I am, I wrote that the parachute should not be given to a single person but rather it should be somehow shared among the 3 people. I provided a brief justification about how it is possible to share the parachute among the 3 people. Of course, I failed the assessment because I failed to choose one person. But I still felt it was the right thing to write. I just couldn't make myself choose a single one of those people. It just seemed so wrong and calculating.

I'm curious to know how you would answer this question. Would you choose one of the people and why?

Picture source:


  1. Haha would have said the same. In fact, it is possible for all 3 to escape. 2 people can share a parachute, if they jump in tandem (read it somewhere). So 1 can share with the pilot another 2 can share the other parachute. :)

    Actually, we had another question asking:
    There are 2 railway tracks with 1 lever to direct the train onto each track. On one, there are a group of children playing Knowingly that it is a danger spot. On an another, a single child is playing UNknowingly of the danger there. If you are the control in charge, where will u direct the train.

    I said: Direct the train towards the single child, then run out and push the child away. Haha... Me too, couldn't choose who to save: Many ignorant lives or 1 innocent life...considering they are still young.

  2. Hey Harish! Thanks so much for sharing man! I really dislike such questions on life taking choices. They make you think about things that you'd rather not consider. Thank god these situations don't happen often in reality.

    Harish which blog do you use? Is it "Harry" or "V R UNITED"?

  3. I would actually choose the Housewife.

    Heres how i looked at this situation.

    First, I read the question but i still didn't give much thought to it. But next, I read your view and the comments and I thought there was just something not right about losing all 3 lives when 1 life can be saved right?

    My opinion is that at times we cannot simply let our own personal principles decide upon the fate of three lives, and that is in its own way "inhuman". Because although you satisfied your own morals, you destroyed 3 lives as a result. And that, in my opinion, is even more unfair than choosing one life over another.

    In some situations we have to let go of our personal principles and think very logically - and this is simply that one life has more value than zero lives. As simple as that, no exceptions.

    Having decided upon my path, I looked at the options. I realized that there is a higher probability that the neurosurgeon would sacrifice himself, and i think i don't need to elaborate on that. Therefore guess what.. you don't really have to choose him because lets say he chooses to let himself die. And so we choose between the housewife and the celebrity. I chose the housewife because I thought about the kids she must have and that the celebrity already had a great life and is probably isn't doing something as important as helping a child grow, as a housewife is.

    The important point is this.. sometimes we must sacrifice own personal principles because.. a life is more important than any principle/moral that one might have.

    Now think about this.. even there were a 100 passengers to choose from.. and you could save 99 of them, would you not save any of the passengers because you simply could not choose the one who has to die? Then you would lose 99 people as a result.. right? Maybe after I adjusted the magnitude of the situation, will you see my point. (:

  4. Sorry i meant you would lose a 100 (all the people).. sorry my math skills slipped there

  5. And dude.. I gave that last example as a possible counter argument when i said "and this is simply that one life has more value than zero lives. As simple as that, no exceptions."

    The possible counter argument is that you might say "Wouldn't that mean that the life of the person you save is more important than the other 2 lives"

    So I gave the other example to show the possibility that "99 lives is more important than one life".

    I hope you don't mind me commenting so many times but i really wanted you to see my point so i made sure to write a full answer. And you could easily consider the situation that oh maybe the housewife is not treating her kids well and that kind of thing.. but that to me is being too hypothetical and after all this is a hypothetical situation haha

  6. Thanks for your insightful comment buddy! Your answer makes a lot of sense and yes, the subtle logic behind your thought became clear when you extended the number of the people who are at risk.

    I think what matters most in these situations is the intent with which you make decisions. As long as your decisions are led by compassion and you do your very best to save life, your decision is morally valid. After all, in a topic as hazy as morality, the only true indicator of the moral worth of our decisions is our intent and the amount of contemplation we have put into the situation. You are certainly right in saying that you'd rather save 99 and let 1 die if you're in command of the situation.

  7. just happened to chance upon this and thought it interesting:)

    Ethically, this is known as social justice or equality i.e. allocating limited resources in the most efficient way to people who need it the most. So I think perhaps evaluating the health status of the people who could be saved would provide better judgement, instead of merely looking at their occupations. The individual, among the three, with the highest chance of survival should be saved to sufficiently justify the use of the limited rescue resources available. :)

    just my two cents worth!:D

  8. Hey!

    Ah yes, that's a very interesting and rational way to look at the problem. I think one more factor should be included, since we're already thinking rationally. That is- how much useful or valuable work the people do on average per unit time. Multiplying that factor with their health status, which is effectively their life expectancy, would give the net benefit they would provide to society in their lifetimes, or at least in the remaining time they have left. The person who provides the greatest benefit should get the parachute then. What do you think?

    And thanks for writing :)

  9. Haha:) you're welcome.

    Personally I think the "value" of work is very subjective. If we wna talk about measuring that "value" one way would be to look at the wage per hour earned. But that said, the housewife belongs to a non-marketed sector and is technically not paid. Moreover, could we say that just because a neurosurgeon earns less than a celebrity, he is creating less value? In my opinion, I feel that one's health status is the easiest and fastest way to allocate limited resources, especially in an urgent situation as mentioned. Let's say there's been a catastrophic situation involving hundreds of people. Those who are sent to the hospitals first would be the ones with the highest chance of survival-- children first elderly last; those alive first, the dead last. I don't think that in reality, people actually consider the occupations of the injured before making a decision as that would be subject to too much time-consuming discussion.

    But of course, we're all entitled to our own opinions, that's just my own thought process :) haha:D

  10. Ah I see your point. It is very subjective, and yeah, what you say is true, that we have little time to think and just allocate resources based on chances of survival.

    Oh, I hope I didn't sound defensive or anything. I value your opinion. All of these economic terms... I have a feeling I know who you are!

  11. nope you didn't, in fact i was surprised you mentioned:D and who exactly am I:D haha:D

  12. and for the record, i think you're thinking the wrong person:D haha:D i don't remember discussing anything pertaining to economics with you:DD (at least not that I recall:D) HAHA:D interesting discussion anw:DD hahaha:DDD

  13. ohh and as a footnote, your math is really WOW!;DDD haha (not that i attempt to comprehend all that at all)

  14. Thanks for your compliment! Do try to comprehend it if you can, I laid it out very clearly for easy reading. It looks intimidating, that's all.

    By economic terms I meant the resource allocation and related stuff.

    But on second thoughts maybe you're not that person. I was thinking you were my economics teacher! But hey, you seem a lot younger than 30...

    Reveal yourself! :P