Catholic Moral thinking for this philisophical dillema?

I took a moral philosophy class last semester and one of the moral dilemmas was a situation in which you had to choose to save either 1 life and let 5 people die or save those 5 people while that 1 person dies.

We explored several ways in which this situation comes up such as in surgery or organ transplants or drowning in the ocean ect. It was a tough thing and the class agreed that they would save those 5 people in spare of that 1 person.

The thinking though is at what point is it morally acceptable in society to save how many lives vs. how many lives? 10 lives for 100,000? 100,000 for 100,000,000? ect.

I didn’t know what to think about this. What would catholic morality say to do if you had to choose to save 1 person or 5 people but not both and you had the ability to do either but not both?

Simply choosing between one person or five people on paper poses no real dillemna. The dillemna comes when you call into question the means with which would save your choice. Catholic morality says that the ends do not justify the means (you can’t murder someone to save others). What were the means discussed?

I don’t like these kinds of questions because they’re always cut-and-dry, and nothing is ever cut-and-dry in real life. They don’t take into account the fact that all people are absolutely precious and have absolute value and worth, first of all. Which is something that’s never discussed!

If all people have absolute value and worth, the one person that dies has the exact same value as the five people who live, and each individual of the five has the exact same worth as the other four, plus the one lone person. And all of them as a group and as individuals have the exact same value as all the humans on earth put together, as does each individual person on earth.

That’s what Catholicism teaches - all humans have absolute value. These questions are designed to trip up people into weighing who has more value, and it’s not logically possible in a Catholic world. Nobody has more value than anyone else.

The question I got in Ethics back in the day was, “If your own son and a man who has a cure for cancer are both drowning, and you can only save one of them, which will you save?” I don’t recall what I answered at the time, but my answer after the fact was, “I would sacrifice myself to save them both. Laying down your life for your friends is the best thing you can do, and everyone has equal worth.”

Turn the question on its head…
Inherent to the question is that people will die.
So will you save as many as you can?

Of course, I am sure there will be some disqualifying comeback to that interpretation. But I am sure at that point it will become obvious to all that it is simply a ‘what if’ game designed against your faith.

I used to like to pose this sort of question as an intellectal exercise. One friend simply refused to take me up on it. He said, “You’re trying to make me choose to kill somebody, and I won’t do it.”

This whole thing depends on if by saving lives you are required to take an innocent life. To me, it sounds as if that isn’t the case, so it’s likely that either one you choose is morally acceptable as saving lives is basically morally desirable.

The only question is which would be the better option. In that case, it could be a case by case basis. I don’t think you could say someone commited a moral wrongdoing by saving an innocent life, even if it was more or less than they could have saved so long as they did what they could. It may however be more “ideal” to save a greater number of lives, or to save a single life that can do more good in the world by curing cancer. The whole question is fairly utilitarianistic, but sense both options are basically “good”, I think it’s fair to make a judgement call either way based on the entire circumstance.

Where the utilitarian prospect would fall under dangerous territory would be if you killed one innocent to save five, or let five die of natural causes to save one. In that case, sense the ends don’t justify the means, you could only morally let the five die to save the one as purposely killing an innocent isn’t ok even to save others.

Correct me if I’m wrong about any of this though…

Very good answer. To be honest I don’t know what I’d do as it depends on the circumstances. I love thinking about these things since it’s a good moral exercise. I do agree with your answer though.

However, lets say that one person had the cure for cancer and you could save him but you wouldn’t have enough time to save the other 1000 people in the boat. Would you save the 1000 or that one person?

Also since I agree killing anyone isn’t morally justifiable in the church. What if a person was holding the trigger to a nuclear bomb to a city? I’m sure it would be morally justified to kill him to save the city. Right?

Also what if a person had a deadly virus and scientists were able to find him before spreading it to the world which would kill everyone. What if that person for some reason was a threat and if they didn’t kill him in 3 days the disease would be spread to the world through air conditioning ducts or something. Would it be justified to kill someone in that case? If not then it would be justified for that person to lay down his life to save others of course. Correct?

I’ll take my best stab at these.

The cure for cancer vs. 1000. I think sense you are saving lives in either case, it can be a judgement call and either is in a sense an acceptable choice. You would only commit a wrong doing if you decided against saving any lives when you were capable of doing so. Even if you make the “wrong” decision, you were attempting to save as many lives as possible either in the immediate or long term.

Holding the trigger to a nuclear bomb depends on whether that person is guilty or innocent. If they are trying to blow up the city, then they are guilty serious crimes and moral offenses and killing them wouldn’t be wrong. Killing isn’t always wrong, murder is. I can’t think of a situation where an innocent person would be a threat to blowing up an entire city, but I suppose there always could be one.

Killing the person with the virus would be wrong assuming they are innocent. It may be ok to quarantine them against their will, or give them something to keep the virus from spreading. To kill them directly assuming they are innocent would be wrong. If they purposely infected themselves to spread the disease then I suppose it could be similar to a suicide bomber and killing them may be acceptable under those circumstances.

For them to “lay down their life” depends. Jumping on a grenade to save your fellow soldiers is ok because you don’t want to end your life, that just may be an unwanted but likely side effect. (If you can somehow survive the grenade blowing up under you, then you’d be fine with that) How this would apply to a virus situation could play out a number of ways, but taking a gun and blowing off your head with the primary intention being to end your own life wouldn’t be ok even to save others. You may be obligated to do a lot to prevent it from spreading though.

It sounds complicated, but really you can’t purposely and directly take innocent life no matter what, but you can indirectly or unpurposely end innocent life or not save innocent life given appropriate circumstances.

Shooting down a plane that is about to crash in a highly populated area may be justified to save lives, but your intention isn’t to kill those onboard and hopefully everyone would live (although extremely unlikely even one person would survive). But under normal circumstances, shooting down planes with innocent people would be wrong due to the high unnecessary risk of innocents dying.

You could also NOT save someone who is dying and still have it be justified. A good example is a very old person who just wants to die a natural death instead of prolonging it with medications and machines. Whereas not saving a drowning person could be wrong assuming it isn’t a great risk to oneself or others. The only MUST is that you can’t purposely and directly take innocent life. After that it’s a lot of case by case stuff.

This is based on my currrent understanding of Catholic teaching and is always subject to change upon further understanding. Don’t take this as anything official.

You should try to save as many people as possible. But according to my understanding of Catholic teaching, you can’t directly kill one person in order to save 1000. In my opinion, this type of reasoning comes up a lot when people try to justify the use of the A-Bomb on innocent civilians in Hiroshima for example, They sometines reason like this: Well, we did kill thousands of innocent people in Japan, but it was justified because if we did not kill those people and stop the war, then there would have been a much greater number of American soldiers who would have died in combat. I don;t think that that type of reasoning is supported by Catholic teaching.

When an ocean ect (or ‘ekt’) goes under nobody can be saved. That is because ects aren’t expected to be in a state of free sinking. They are light air-tight vessels for reconaissance. If one gets detected, it usually doesn’t escape getting destroyed by the enemy. Ects aren’t fast, their small 125cc downtuned engine delivers less than 4hp for the sake of efficiency and low noise levels. Yet each ect carries necessarily 5 men. There’s no chance for anybody to survive.

I don’t praticularly love the “what if” questions, but they are always raised so I’ll try to add my 2 cents.

The utilitarian idea of sacrificing one to save many misses many points. Here is one I like:

If my son was drowning next to the fellow who held the cure to cancer, I would save my son without thinking twice about it. Why? Well because if I wasn’t related to either person, then yes the better idea would be to save the guy with the cure. But its a whole different story a bond such as a father-son bond is present. As a human I would probably be better off saving the guy with the cure, but as a FATHER I would have the obligation to do what was necessary to save my son simply because I am his father. A father has a greater responsibility toward his children than he does to the rest of society.

There are definitely good arguments against this example, but it still makes sense to me.

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