Jane Smith is standing at a railway switch as an oncoming train rapidly approaches from her right. Just beyond her is a fork in the track. Five innocent people, unaware of the train, are standing on the left fork. One innocent man is standing on the right. If Jane does nothing, the train will veer to the left and kill the five people. If she throws the switch, the train will veer to the right and kill the man. Should she do it? She must decide instantly: Yes, she will.
Now Jane (a pseudonym) is standing on an open footbridge that crosses a track. A large man is beside her. A runaway train is approaching at high speed. Just beyond the bridge, behind her, five people are standing on the track. The only way to save them is to push the large man immediately off the bridge into the train's path. Will she do it? Her answer comes right away: "No!"
This article was originally published with the title Anguish and Ethics.