Vaccine Mandates & The Trolley Problem

by Octapoo

Sunday, August 22, 2021 at 18:29:00 UTC

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Imagine you have a terminal disease, but science is able to develop a cure that merely requires that someone jump from a two-story building onto concrete and, for totally scientific reasons that completely make sense, it can't be anyone who knows you and thus would naturally want to do it. It has to be a stranger.

It's a height, but it's not so high that, if done correctly, the person doing it won't survive. Maybe they'll break a leg or an arm, but even that isn't a given with some training and practice. They just have to make sure that their head doesn't hit the concrete and that they don't break their neck. Anything else that might go wrong can probably be fixed by the hospital. So someone can totally save your life, and they'll probably be just fine after doing so. Probably.

What if no one volunteers to do this for you? Would you be in favor of the government stepping in and mandating that someone do it?

There could be a lottery in which someone is chosen who is then forced to make the jump. Would you be in favor of the government doing this to save your life, particularly knowing that, while the person will likely be fine, it's entirely possible that the government is choosing who is going to die in order to save your life?

I don't think there are many people who would be OK with that.

However, what if I rephrase the question? What if, instead of talking about saving your life, we're talking about saving the lives of thousands of people each year who are afflicted with this terminal disease? Would you then be in favor of the jump lottery? It might kill only 1 person for every 1000 people that it saves. Would you be in favor of it as long as the lives being saved are not your own?

I feel like those in favor of vaccine mandates would now say "yes." In other words, I feel like they would be willing to implement authoritarian measures to save other people's lives, but not their own life. The paradoxical thing about this is that I think it's reasonable to say that, if you wouldn't be in favor of something that saves your own life, other people wouldn't be in favor of it being done to save their lives either. Thus, I feel like we have people arguing for something to be done to save the lives of people who don't want that thing done in the name of saving their lives.

I think our current plan to start vaccinating children is a perfect example of this. COVID-19 is most dangerous to the elderly and least dangerous to children. Sure, there's the occasional instance of a child suffering from it, but it's rare. So are you in favor of demanding that children risk paralysis or death, even if it's a very small risk, to protect yourself from possible COVID-19 exposure? What about the elderly who we're most trying to save? Do any of the elderly want to put children at any risk at all so that they can live a few years longer? I doubt any of them would be in favor of that. Particularly not if they think about the fact that they'd be putting their own grandchildren at risk. I don't think you'll find a grandmother who would take a one-in-a-million chance that her grandchild would die in order to save her own life. So why are we thinking about vaccinating children for COVID-19?

If the vaccines were perfectly safe, then it would make sense. It would be as if science had developed a cure where all that someone has to do is blink their eyes and you'll live. Then you'd probably say "fuck yes the government should mandate that someone blinks their fucking eyes." However, while there's a lot of dispute about how safe the vaccines are, I don't think anyone but the most hard-core pro-vaxxers are still saying that vaccines are 100% safe. They're obviously not, and since that's the case, then, as unlikely as it may be, it is possible that you're forcing someone who may get COVID-19 and live to instead get the vaccine and die.

It's like the trolley problem in that sense. You have to choose whether to allow a train to continue on it's path where it will strike five people, or divert it onto another track where it will strike only one person. Many people think they should choose what is best for everyone, then presume that "best for everyone" means "fewest lives lost," and thus choose to switch the trolley to the second track.

I think about all of the things I don't know: Is the one person on the inactive track there because he knows it's inactive, and thus I'm going to choose to kill the only person who is looking out for himself? Do the five people on the active track know that they're in a dangerous place and thus they're listening for the train and will move when it approaches? Will the one person on the inactive track not move because he knows he's on the inactive track and thus will assume that the train is passing on the other track? Might the five on the active track move to the currently-inactive track when they hear the train approaching, and thus my choice to divert the train ends up killing all six? Is it possible that the five people in the path of the train have formed a suicide pact, which is why they are ignoring the train, and thus, even if I save them, they'll simply stand in front of the next train and die anyway?

It may be a tragedy to allow five people to die, but I believe it's the only morally correct decision, because not only would switching the track be a declaration that I know everything and that I cannot be wrong, but even in the case that I'm genuinely taking one life to save five equally innocent lives, I'm still murdering an innocent person.

Thus, if a vaccine isn't 100% safe, I'm not in favor of mandating it. Indeed, since I cannot ever know with 100% certainty that any vaccine is 100% safe, I'm not in favor of mandating any vaccine. Since I can't know with 100% certainty that anyone else knows with 100% certainty that any vaccine is safe, I'm not in favor of anyone else mandating vaccines either. I think the only morally correct thing to do is to allow people to make that decision for themselves.


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