I was interested to find this thread because it relates to an ethics problem I'm trying to resolve at the minute - a question that came up during a debate on the Gaza conflict on another forum. I'm arguing with someone who basically believes that Israel has no right to defend itself when it knows that innocent Palestinians will be killed as a result.
I completely agree that when innocent civilians are killed in this situation, the blame lies squarely on whomever forced Israel to take this action to protect the lives of its civilians. To illustrate this point to the altruist who disagrees with me, I constructed this imaginary scenario (which may or may not have been a good idea in retrospect):
There are two houses some distance from each other with nothing else in between. The players in this situation are strictly restricted to the two houses and the occupants inside. In one house: you and your family. In the other house: a family of strangers toward whom you bear no ill will whatsoever.
A terrorist storms the other house, keeps the family inside hostage and begins to fire rockets at your house. They explode to the left, to the right - and you realize that very soon, one of these rockets is going to land on your house and kill you and your family. You have in your possession an accurate missile which is guaranteed to hit its target. The question is: do you fire the rocket and guarantee the death of the terrorist, knowing fine well that the other innocent family will also die?
My answer is yes, you fire the missile and that the blame for the death of the innocent family lies squarely at the feet of the terrorist who forced you to make a decision between your family and the other one. Forced into making that choice, it would be immoral to sacrifice your own family for the sake of the other one. You should not feel any guilt whatsoever.
All well and good. But now my adversary has countered with another scenario which appears to throw a spanner in the works. A hit and run driver has hit your child and left her with critical injuries. She requires an organ transplant to save her life. None are available. However, you find yourself alone in a childrens hospital ward with nobody around and realize that if you tampered with some of the medical equipment keeping a couple of other children alive, you could end their lives and free up the organs to save your child.
Let's assume that in this scenario, the deaths of those innocent children would definitely make the relevant organs available for yours and that the transplant would definitely save her life. Should you do the deed and transfer the blame on the hit and run driver who forced you into this situation in the first place? In some ways, the essentials of the situation mirror that of the missile situation. Someone has forced you into deciding whether or not to kill innocent lives in order to save the life or lives of your own loved ones.
My problem is that on one level, everything is telling me that the two situations are ethically different and that in the latter, there is nothing which justifies the deliberate, intentional killing of innocent children in order to "harvest" organs to save the life of my own child. But every time I try to explain the thing verbally, I end up backing into an ethical dead end which cries out "how is this really different?"
I just don't know what angle to attack this problem from. My first thought is to differentiate the two by pointing out that in the first example, my primary intent is to kill the terrorist to save my family and that the deaths of the innocent family are unfortunate collateral deaths - while in the second example, my primary intent is to kill the innocent children to save my child, and thus the ethics are different. But if I use this approach, I know what my adversary will say: "So what? The essentials of the two situations are the same - you are forced to make a choice between your children and other children."
So my other line of thought is to point out that in the first case, the purpose of the act is to prevent an attack taking place on my family, whereas in the second, the 'attack' has already happened. Therefore, in the childrens ward, the killing of the innocent children is not an act of "self defense" as such. But again I can imagine what he will say - "this idea of 'self defense' seems arbitrary - the fact is, that at the point of decision, there is a 'threat' on your family which you have the choice to 'defend' them against. In the first case, the threat is from the terrorist and in the second case, the 'threat' is from the injuries your child has already sustained."
So I'm left to explain why the ethics are different in a case where the threat is from another human and in a case where the 'threat' is from life threatening injuries which require attention. Only I'm not really very well practiced in structuring an answer to something like this. Which is why I've turned to practicing Objectivists, whom I'm confident will give me an idea of the word flow to explain to this guy the ethical differences between the two situations. Any ideas?