Problem: The class is on an international geology field-study trip in Mexico to study various rock formations in caves. Everything is going quite well until we come to our last set of caves near Taxco. Thirty of us are together inside the cave when tragedy strikes. An earthquake of enormous proportions causes a cave-in, and the mouth of the cave in which we are exploring is completely covered with large boulders. After surveying the situation we find that about 10 students are seriously injured and need medical attention soon if they are to survive. All other students and faculty are shaken but unharmed except for one. One student (Pat) is trapped in the rubble of large rocks blocking the entrance. Pat is conscious but in substantial pain.What do you think? I'll give my opinion in a few hours or tomorrow after you have a chance to comment.
When we survey what we have in the emergency kit, we note that we have several sticks of dynamite. Our guide, Jose Peralta Cisneros, points out that our supply of oxygen is extremely limited.
He knows that at the very best we have about 8 to 12 hours of oxygen and certainly no more than 24 hours. No rescue units would even know that we are trapped in the cave and even it they did we would all be dead before they could reach us. Without doubt, the 10 injured students (11 counting Pat) and all of the rest of us will be dead if we do not escape the cave very soon.
We realize that if we use the sticks of dynamite to blast open the mouth of the cave, then Pat will be killed by the blast.
If we do not blast open the mouth of the cave the situation is hopeless for the other 29 of us and we will all die. As we begin to discuss our options one student says, "We can't kill Pat, because it is wrong to kill another human being!"
Another student says, "But all human life is sacred and we must do everything that we can to preserve lives! We must kill Pat to save everyone else."
We don't have long to make up our minds, because we are running out of air to breathe and the injured are at great risk.
1) What should we do? Why?
2) What (if anything) changes if Pat says that he is in such pain that he wants to die?
3) What (if anything) changes if Pat begs us not to kill him?
4) Does your decision change if Pat is female? Male?
5) Are there any general moral principles that could be derived from this exercise?
Monday, August 28, 2006
Ethical question of the day
This is from Laurie's ethics class: