This is just a quick curiosity thing, really. I’m working on another trolley problem activity for my Philosophy Experiments web site. (The original trolley problem activity is here.)
Anyway, I’ve been messing around with Judith Jarvis Thomson’s “Bystander at the Switch” scenario:
In that case you have been strolling by the trolley track, and you can see the situation at a glance: The driver saw the five on the track ahead, he stamped on the brakes, the brakes failed, so he fainted. What to do? Well, here is the switch, which you can throw, thereby turning the trolley yourself. Of course you will kill one if you do. But I should think you may turn it all the same.
I tend to agree that you may turn the trolley. But I’m curious about the legal situation here. If you turn the trolley, would you then be guilty of murder (i.e., in terms of the law)?
Judith Jarvis Thomson introduces the Bystander at the Switch scenario to illustrate the difference between “letting die” (i.e., if you just allow the trolley to continue so that it squashes the five workmen on the track) and “killing” (i.e., if you turn the trolley, thereby killing one person – albeit you save the lives of the five on the track).
So does something like the doctrine of double effect come into play here so that you wouldn’t be guilty of murder in this situation? Has this been established in case law or something?
Edit: Courtesy of John in the comments below, the legal defence has to do with “Necessity”. See:
And John’s comment here: http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=3677#comment-39938