Help Sophie Make a Choice
June 2, 2006 10:06 AM Subscribe
You're a single mother, with no living relatives except your twin daughters, who are both dying of kidney failure. You have one kidney to donate. Is there a moral/ethical philosophy that deals with such rock/hard place dilemmas?
Maybe you can point out a loophole -- the mother could give both her kidneys, sacrificing herself to save the two kids. But work with me here, okay? (The mother only has one healthy kidney.) My point isn't about this specific dilemma -- it's about making choices in which, whatever you do, someone gets deeply hurt.
Another -- less plausible -- scenario: a madman holds your family at gunpoint and says he's going to shoot one of your kids in two minutes. He wants you to choose which one, and if you don't make a choice before the time is up, he'll shoot them both.
Or, more pedestrian: you're a middle manager who has been ordered to fire one of two people, both of whom have equal merit.
Sometimes the "someone has to lose" scenario is due to the complexity of a system. It may be that preventing environmental harm means forcing a company to buy expensive, eco-friendly equipment, which may hurt their bottom line, forcing them to fire workers.
Most moralizing I've heard assumes there's a correct answer -- or at least a lesser of two evils. But this dodges much of real life. The "wisdom" I have heard usually boils down to "we live in an imperfect world", which just describes the problem.
When there is no good choice -- yet one has to make a choice -- an option is to use randomness. But there's something so cold (though fair, I guess) about flipping a coin to see which daughter gets the kidney. It would feel, to me, like I was dodging the humanity of the situation. Truthfully, these situations are so horrible that the common way to deal with them seems to be denial. This could involve oversimplifying a complex problem (at least we're not hurting the environment) or justifying a random action (I looked into Lizzie's eyes and could tell she accepted her fate...).
One of the reasons I so hate politics is that it almost always involves this sort of denial. Almost any complex political decision is going to hurt someone, and (probably because admitting this would mean losing votes) the decision makers almost never deal with this dead on. ("We're going to stop the company from making massive lay-offs. Unfortunately, this WILL impact the environment...")
What have "the wise men" said about grappling with such dilemmas?