Which friend should die?

The ‘torture of terrorist’s children’ debate has reminded me of another hypothetical moral dilemma I was once given. It may have appeared here before in some form, so forgive me if I am repeating old stuff (I’m new here).

Here’s the scenario:

You and your two best friends/relations (the people you love and value more than any other) are taken captive by “bad guys”. You are told you must choose which of them will die so that you and the other may live. If you do not choose, choose yourself, or make any other choice - all three of you will die.

I was given this after being asked who the two people were so I would be thinking about specific people - but my question is: could you make the choice?

It shouldn’t matter who they are, but you may wish to consider who the friends/relations might be…

In a situation in which we would all die unless one was sacrificed, I would ask the “bad guy” to kill me instead of my friends. If he refused, I’d have to do it arbitrarily, such as having them pick a number between 1 and 100.

I’d refuse to choose. If he kills us all that’s his choice not mine. This OP reminds me of Sophie’s Choice. I hate that movie. the ending still makes me sick just thinking about it.

I don’t know how rational this is, but my gut instinct is to tell the bad guy to go to hell. If he chooses to kill both of my friends/loved ones/random strangers, that’s his choice, and he’s the one responsible for their murder. I don’t think he can fob off moral responsibility for his actions on someone else. Don’t kill any of us; maybe I might unbend enough to nobly say “Don’t kill either of them–kill me instead”, but I don’t know that I’d be willing to “choose”.

(Naturally, this is all pretty theoretical; if I were actually in such a situation, I can’t say for sure I wouldn’t break down, bawl like a baby, and say “Do whatever you want to them, just don’t hurt me!” Also, I have no children; it’s probably easier to be cold-blooded about hypothetical adult friends or loved ones; if I had at least two small children, and I had to “choose” or see them all die, I don’t know how I’d react.)

Of course, you could always alter the scenario to the old “there are only n seats on the lifeboat” scenario. Not much point to getting morally outraged at the sea (or even the sharks).

On preview: In other words, I agree with Diogenes the Cynic.

My response was much as yours. If I was actually in the situation I suspect my survival instinct might kick in - but I would like to think I could refuse to choose. To push it further I like to think I would refuse even if they were people I didn’t know.

ie: “If you choose to kill us all so be it. The responsibility for this act dies not rest with me.”

So to those of you who are saying, “Screw him, if he wants to kill us all, that’s his business”… isn’t that a little selfish? Look at a slightly different, but completely analogous, example. Your two friends are both dangling from a ledge. In 10 seconds, they will fall to their deaths. You can save one of them, and only one. In this case, would you let them both die, because you don’t want to be forced to choose? Or would you try to save one of them, because that’s the best alternative?

The evil killer scenario is pretty much the same. You can save one of your friends, or you can let them both die. If your reasoning is that you love your friends too much to be able to choose, then shouldn’t that love translate into a desire to save at least one of them, if you can?

Personally, I go with Lissa’s idea. Flip a coin, or use some other means of random selection, to decide who lives. Whoever dies will at least know that it was fate, not your will, that led to their death.

David Schwimmer.
reads thread


While I should say that there are a number of factors that would weigh into such a decision, like whether one person had children, ect. If the people in the example were my mother and father(Presuming my father were still alive), I would choose my father because I think he would best understand being chosen for death.
In a situation where either choice would be considered equally weighted(i.e. no kids, no family, ect.) I would probably choose the one I cared about the most, being unwilling to live with choosing someone because I didn’t care as much about them(If, for example it were my mother and a complete stranger.)
On the other end(Of the chosen, not the guy with the gun.), I’d probably nod at the person choosing to indicate it was ok.
What would really suck is if you chose, and the guy shot that person, then the other person, and let you live.

If I was presented with such a choice, involving two of my true friends, I’d kill or harm the b@stard quickly as possible before I was snuffed.

Do you even remotely think that someone who would ask you to do such a thing would let you live longer than your own friends?

Do not ask me to sacrifice those that I love, you will then be dispatched first and fastest.

I’m not sure I understand the stance taken by several posters: “If you choose to kill us all so be it. The responsibility for this act dies not rest with me.” (This specifically from TheArchmage.)

If you’re told one of your friends will die, or all three of you will die, and you get to choose which of those scenarios occurs, how does that make you responsible for the death of the one? Hold a gun to my head, I’ll tell you to kill Fred, sure. But it’s not my responsibility if you go ahead and do it. If you have every reason to believe that the person in control of the situation will follow through on their words, what is to gain by taking the noble ground and getting all three of you killed?

Sophie’s Choice was a hard choice to make. But the fact that she made it doesn’t make her responsible for what happened.

I once read somewhere that, during the Holocaust, some children were given the choice of having either their mother or their father killed. Once the child was forced to chose, they’d kill the one not chosen. Hopefully, this didn’t actually ever happen.

The scenario of the ledge posted by ElJeffe is completely different. It is not a situation in which a person is saying “I am going to kill either one of you or all of you.”

My pov comes from refusing to bow to terrorism. I refuse to accept that choice.

I think Zenster makes two very good points, though they are outside the scope of the simple dilemma. There is nothing to say the ‘bad guy’ wont kill you anyway and doing whatever else you can before making such a decision (such as trying to escape or attacking him) would be first priority.

Like all such hypotheticals the question raises many more (are you sure you can trust the bad guys to do as they say? etc.) - but
the simple point of the exercise is to consider - would I make the choice in the circumstances given.

I’d ask for a volunteer. If that didn’t work, then I try to make the choice based on who has children, who’s younger, etc. If that didn’t work I’d flip a coin.

If refusing to answer meant only my death, then maybe I’d refuse. It depends on who if anybody is depending on me at the time. I wouldn’t leave my children fatherless for a principle.

But since the other friend’s life depends on my choice, I’d make the choice. At least one friend will live, and i wouldn’t sacrifice him or her for a principle either.

[Frank Drebin]

“Oh, yeah? Well, two can play at that game!”

grabs two of the Bad Guy’s friends and holds them at gunpoint

[/Frank Drebin]

TheArchmage, I see your point. If you take the question at face value, in that you assume Mr. Nasty will do what he says and all, then the best outcome requires you to make the choice. If you consider the real scenario, you have no reason to believe anything Mr. Nasty tells you and your best bet is to do everything in your power to escape with your friends, but if that’s not possible then refusal to choose may be an option.

Do I trust the bad guy? No farther than I can spit upwind. Kick him in the nuts.

If I was choosing, though, I’d take into account factors such as children or other dependents, spouses, family, and “connectedness” to other people, (future) contributions to society, ability to escape from this scenario and ability to help me escape, and (let’s be honest) ability to understand or forgive my choice. I think I’d need some emotional support when it was all over, don’t you?

That, or “bidding starts at $10000.” :smiley:

Incidentally, why am I choosing? What’s to stop the bad guys from asking the same question of my friends? Maybe they’re looking for consensus.

i’d always thought that if such hypothetical situations were to happen for real what you think wouldn’t account for much, it’s how your reflex reacts, and you’ll certainly regret your decision either way…

OP - stunned into brain lock
dangling ropes - rescue whoever your reflex tells you to

that choice isn’t a choice.

if you take the guy at his word (and you have to for the dilemma to work) you can’t offer yourself, and if you don’t choose more people will die.

your choice is between the death of one, and the death of many.
who you choose is really up to you, personally i’d choose the friend i knew would be more likley to empathise and forgive me.

anyway, you could not be held responsible for their death.

Coffee, nose, new keyboard - you know the drill.


You have to be sure the guy is telling you the truth, otherwise there is no dilemma at all. And there is also nothing you are missing in the scenerio - the guy will dissapear off the face of the earth after this. So if you say you would try to attack him or something you aren’t answering the question. Or if you say you refuse because you won’t support a terrorist, that isn’t an answer either.

I would have to just choose one of them. Choosing or not would not make me responsible for what the guy does. However, if I didn’t choose I would be letting both friends die so that I did not have to live with the pain of letting one of them die.

I did it! I finally did it! Damn me all to hell!