Medical Ethics and the Trolley Problem

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The Kantian Ethics

In Kantianism, the categorical imperative states that a person’s conduct should be consistent with the maxim or standard that they would desire any other rational individuals to embrace because their obligation is observing universal law. My responsibility entails behaving in a way that I would like everyone to act or behave in a comparable position or circumstance (Garrett). Consequently, Kantian ethicists emphasize that individual actions must be guided or informed by goodwill, as well as rational morality. In Immanuel Kant’s view, these two ethical principles are unchangeable, invariable, and universal. Therefore, Kantianism is the exact opposite of utilitarianism. In short, while the utilitarian perspective stresses actions’ expected consequences, Kant’s categorical imperative assumes that morally praiseworthy acts should align with or appreciate a strong sense of duty. 

Categorical imperative states that any given individual has a clear as well as moral responsibility, to tell the truth. In this sense, we should be truthful and avoid acts that cause death because doing so is one of the perfect duties, which requires us never to tell lies (Garrett). A perfect duty comprises that which all people remain obliged to do at any given time. In Kant’s view, a person must not treat or use others as an existing or a potential means to an end because people are born as ends, meaning we should not make any attempt to exploit anyone with the sole purpose of achieving a particular purpose.

According to Kantian ethics, murder and lies are moral evils (Cahn 108). By referring to Kant’s categorical imperative, I must take a non-consequentialist approach to define what is wrong and right. Kant has a strong conviction that a person who chooses to do bad or engage in a wrong action is innately evil (Cahn 114). Therefore, my action in this situation would be driven by a universally recognized maxim of doing the right thing irrespective of its outcome. As Cahn (114) puts it, the premise of categorical imperative revolves around what you do, not its consequences, meaning doing the right thing because it is good. I would not kill one person and save five and justify this bad action because it produced a good consequence (Andrade 3). In this respect, I am applying Kant’s deontological moral theory, especially the principle of categorical imperative, which requires us to never use others as a means to an end.

Although failure to avert the death of five individuals would imply that I have a hand in their demise, intentionally killing one person goes a long way in perverting the already established law of nature, which governs protecting human life at all times. Therefore, I would not prevent the death of the five individuals because that would be their fate. I would ask myself this question: “What of if the trolley was about to result in the fatality of one worker as opposed to five?” Doing the opposite would still mean I have utilized the dilemma to satisfy or meet my own objectives, which breaches my duty. 

Although Kant insists that we must always remain truthful, I think that telling the truth in some circumstances makes the duty in question immoral. A typical case in point involves this scenario: I am the sole breadwinner in my family. I have no job, just washing clothes for neighbors to fetch little money for one meal or two a day. My younger sibling has passed her high school examinations but lacks the fees to join her dream college. We have tried all avenues to no avail. However, there is only one source, a rich man lending money with the borrower promising to repay in a month’s time. In this case, given the strict requirements, I would lie by making a false promise of refunding the loan. In this way, I would have admitted my sister to college.













































Works Cited

Andrade, Gabriele. “Medical Ethics and the Trolley Problem.” Journal of Medical Ethics and History of Medicine, vol. 12, 2019, p. 3.

Cahn, Steven. Exploring Ethics: An Introductory Anthology. Oxford University Press, 2009. 

Garrett, Jan. Kant’s duty ethics. 2006,

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