A Father’s Agonising Choice
You are an inmate in a concentration camp. A sadistic guard is about to hang your son who tried to escape, and wants you to pull the chair out from underneath him. He says that if you don’t he will not only kill your son but some other innocent inmate as well. You don’t have any doubt that he means what he says. What should you do?
This was the dilemma my group was faced with. Obviously it is a tough choice for anyone, but a father would likely have an especially hard time killing his son, even for the sake of another innocent life.
Looking at it objectively, there are 4 people involved in this scenario. You, the guard – likely with other guards as backup – your son, and the other innocent prisoner. The options available to you are simple – kill your son or refuse to.
- As a group, we also considered attempting to attack the guard and killing yourself as options.
The methods for these actions are pulling out the chair to kill your son, saying no to the guard to refuse, hitting or attempting to strangle the guard (as you likely do not have anything to use as a weapon), or biting through your tongue to kill yourself.
The attack attempt was immediately discarded as a viable option, as the guard (and his presumed backup) would likely be armed and in better condition (well fed, trained and strong) than a concentration camp prisoner. The attack would fail, and if you were not killed in the process, then you would be faced with the same dilemma as before (or the guards would kill any combination of you, your son and the innocent as punishment for trying to defy them).
Killing yourself wouldn’t actually solve anything. You would be dead and have no influence over the fates of any of the other prisoners. At least you wouldn’t have to choose to kill your son?
With the last two options, it can be boiled down to kill one person or watch two die. Your son does not survive in any version of this scenario, but your choice can affect the life or death of the other prisoner. With this in mind – and assuming the goal is to preserve as many innocent lives as possible – the most ethical option is to kill your son. While your son would die and you would likely be overcome with grief and regret at your hand in it, the bystander would survive for another day.
Of course, looking at it from another point of view, being dead could be preferable to being alive in a concentration camp, in which case the more ethical solution would be to refuse to kill your son, then attack the guard or kill yourself after the other prisoners are both dead.