Killing vs Allowing death


#1

I’m a high-school teacher (public school) and my students who take sociology sometimes pose questions to me from what they heard in class. I want to give a Catholic answer. Is there a clear Catholic answer or is the theology still developing?

Scenario 1: A train is barreling down a track about to kill 20 people and you have the choice to redirect the train to another track which contains only 1 person.

Scenario 2: A train is barreling down a track about to kill 20 people. You can stop/derail the train by actively pushing 1 person in front of the train to save the 20.

Scenario 3: Someone is going to kill your family of five if you do not kill one person (varying levels of social significance from a criminal to a world leader).

Scenario 4: National security is on the line and an individual with the power to stop a catastrophic event is unwilling. What is allowed to coerce him/her into stopping the event? Is there a difference between actively hurting and depriving the person of food/water/shelter/interaction?

PS: I’m sure I’m not the first person to pose these questions. Links to other forums or articles are welcome. Of course, CCC references are awesome.


#2

You cannot do any of those things.

I would suggest you review the entire section of the Catechism on The Morality of Human Acts.

Part 3, Section 1, Chapter 1, Article 4.

Here are a couple of paragraphs to the point from this section’s summary:

1757 The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the three “sources” of the morality of human acts.

1758 The object chosen morally specifies the act of willing accordingly as reason recognizes and judges it good or evil.

1759 “An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention” (cf St. Thomas Aquinas, Dec. praec. 6). the end does not justify the means.

1760 A morally good act requires the goodness of its object, of its end, and of its circumstances together.

1761 There are concrete acts that it is always wrong to choose, because their choice entails a disorder of the will, i.e., a moral evil. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.


#3

Is not the first scenario permissible under the principle of double effect?

Scenario 1: A train is barreling down a track about to kill 20 people and you have the choice to redirect the train to another track which contains only 1 person.

In this scenario, one would be redirecting the train away from the track with 20 people, with the intention of saving those 20 people. The act itself is morally neutral (redirecting the train) and the intention is for the saving of 20, not the killing of one. The killing of the one is a tolerated effect, not intended directly.

This satisfies all the requirements of the principle of double effect.


#4

I was pretty certain the first would be safe because of double effect. It’s a new concept to me so I’m trying to see if it can be expanded to any of the other scenarios. But I guess not.


#5

No, it can’t apply to the other three. I’ll show why:

Scenario 2: A train is barreling down a track about to kill 20 people. You can stop/derail the train by actively pushing 1 person in front of the train to save the 20.

The act is not morally neutral. Pushing a person off the train is directly murder, and thus this is an evil act.

Scenario 3: Someone is going to kill your family of five if you do not kill one person (varying levels of social significance from a criminal to a world leader).

This example is slightly vague. It seems that the situation is NOT one of self-defense, and if that is the case, there is no circumstance in which it is licit to kill (murder) to save your own family. Once again, the act itself is intrinsically evil.

Scenario 4: National security is on the line and an individual with the power to stop a catastrophic event is unwilling. What is allowed to coerce him/her into stopping the event? Is there a difference between actively hurting and depriving the person of food/water/shelter/interaction?

Provided that the “individual with the power to stop a catastrophic event” is the legitimate ruler, and has not acted outside of his bounds or broken the law, one cannot perpetuate any kind of violence against this person in order to “coerce” him into making a certain decision.

Now, if the person is a tyrant and does injustice against the people, there’s a whole separate discussion to be had on when it is morally licit to overthrow a ruler, but since this example doesn’t imply that, I won’t go into it.


#6

My first thought here was that the correct answer is not to push someone else, but to jump in yourself.
Thus it is not murder of another, but a sacrifice of the self.

Peace
James


#7

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