Thursday, February 5, 2015

Anti-Vaxxers: The "Trolley" Problem Played Out in Real Life

An Arizona cardiologist (an "osteopath" not an M.D.) has gone on national television unabashedly saying that he doesn't care that his unvaccinated child may cause death or disability to another child:
"Could you live with yourself if your child got another child sick?  I mean really sick?  and complications, even death?"
"I could live with myself very easily.  It's a very unfortunate thing that people die, but unfortunately people die, and I'm not going to put my child at risk to save another child.  I'm not going to sacrifice the well-being of my child.  My child is pure."
He's wrong about the risk to his own child, of course.  Unless his child is a transplant recipient his child can handle childhood vaccinations just fine.  And even if his child is totally healthy, measles could cause complications or death.  The risk--benefit analysis isn't subtle.

But let's assume for argument's sake that he may have a point.    He's playing out the ethics of the Trolley Problem perfectly.  In the old days of trolleys criss-crossing big cities, an ethicist posed this question:
If a trolley is running out of control and there were six people unaware of it who were doomed to die, would you pull a switch to send it down a different track which has only one person standing on it?"
A variation on this idea puts the single person closer to you.  In order to save the six people you'd have to push a large man in front of the trolley (you're too small to solve this problem by jumping in front of the trolley yourself), thus killing him but saving the others.   The outcome in either scenario would be the same, but in the first thought experiment you're more removed -- you're not the killer, you merely redirect the killer.  In the second you are the killer, a murderer perhaps.  According to Thomas Aquinas and most people generally, an evil act that results in good results is still an evil act, so the second scenario is untenable.

The problem with the anti-vaxxers' selfish decision not to vaccinate is of course the premise.  They risk their own child's life as well as some hypothetical stranger's life.

I'd like to pose the vaccine question to the parent of two children, one of whom is immune-compromised and one of whom is normal.  Either way, they would pose a risk to one child.   How to decide... how to decide....  Oh yeah, science!

Anyway, I've been reading on morality (book review to come later) and when I hear people say they won't risk their own child's life for another child's life I hear the Trolley Problem being acted out in real life.  This is why appealing to the impact on other children won't sway these people, however selfish the choice seems.

Other doctors have complained about him and he may lose his license.  One can hope.

For another parental view, check out what famous children's author Roald Dahl said about his daughter's death from measles.


L.Long said...

I absolutely hate the trolley problem, its always treated like this simplistic 2 choice problem.
The 2nd a skinny gay pushes a fat guy into the path to stop it. Thus assuming skinny is better than fat but he can serve some purpose. And it wont work cuz if skinny tried this I would then pick up the skinny guy and throw him into the front of the trolley as the added force of throwing the skinny dude makes up for his weight.
And besides be intelligent enough to do the math...the fat guy would have to weigh at least 1/2 ton to seriously affect the trolley!!!!
The 1st problem is even sillier!!!

L.Long said...

OH forgot....
Why not have a rule that ALL kids in PUBLIC school MUST be vaccinated or go somewhere else .... like xtian school..infect them!!!they can always pray!
Just this rule would solve a large %-age of the problem.

LadyAtheist said...

I think that unvaccinated children should not be able to go to ANY public place!

L.Long said...

I sort of agree but it would be hard to do. As going to school requires paperwork where going to the movies does not. And make a law requiring kids to have IDs that state this & that would be fought tooth & nail by most everyone.

LadyAtheist said...

I know it's not practical but it's what I think!

Christian said...

Lets hope this fools license gets revoked, maybe then he will wake up. Then again if he follows the Job example, even if his child dies of a preventable disease he will still be anti-vaccine. Some people you cannot help.