COVID19 Trolley Problem

In this current COVID19 crisis, we are confronting a real world example of the the trolley problem in philosophy.    In the early March time frame, we observed that if we did nothing we would face a large number of deaths primarily among elderly people and people with other serious conditions.    This is like the set up of the trolley problem where if left on the current track, these lives would be at risk.

The choice is to throw a switch to get the trolley to go down a different path.   The chosen path was to buy some time for a vaccine by enforcing an economic shut down with stay at home orders.   This was presented as a compassionate alternative where we are trading off economic prosperity to save lives.

I think this was misleading because economic prosperity is the legacy we intended to pass onto the next generation.   Sacrificing the prosperity is effectively sacrificing the younger generation’s future prospects.

There is much more at risk than not just their economic prospects.

  • Their lives are at risk if we degrade our food supply chains.   Famine and starvation is a real risk if we continue the current path.
  • In this period, we are denying them the opportunities to develop their careers.   If they had a non-essential job, they are now unemployed.   If they still have a job, they are not able to move to a different job, especially one that requires training.   They are not able to get schooling or college training.   All of these are denied during their most optimal years of their lives for such opportunities both to pick up and to maximize the available time to take advantage of that training.
  • Also during this period, they are denied the opportunity to expand and develop their social relationships that will be valuable in their future lives, including providing personal references and even finding a partner to start a family during a young age.
  • In the case of family-formation, the delays will reduce the ultimate size and satisfaction of the family experience.   In particular, the lock downs are affecting those who now are in their 30s and thus at the end of the window of opportunity to start a family.   The lock downs may shut their opportunities entirely.
  • The limited opportunities for inter-personal interactions, especially in public social settings involving crowds, will result in more problems psychologically and even physically.   There will be more depression and anxiety that will lead to further unhealthy choices or even suicides.

This younger generation will face additional hazards when the vaccine is mandated.

  • The vaccine is being developed on a schedule that is rushed due to the perceived urgency to solve this epidemic.   That schedule does not allow for enough time for testing for potential long-term harm such as the potential to cause cancers, auto-immune disease, sterility, or being prone to having children with birth defects.   Such testing obviously would take much longer than is available to have a vaccine within a year.
  • Until now, there have been no effective vaccine for corona viruses despite lots of effort.   The ones that have been tried have had serious side effects.   All current research is on never-before tried gene therapy approach involving bare mRNA injection with additives that encourage cells to take up this foreign genetic material.   Previous testing showed evidence that such therapy can result in making future infections more dangerous instead of inducing immunity.   Thus, the vaccine could make the younger people more vulnerable to serious complications than they would have been without the vaccine.
  • Given the rush to get these vaccines, the vaccine is likely to be no more effective than influenza vaccines.   As a result, there may need to be multiple or annual vaccinations that will add to the risks due to the vaccines.
  • The future mRNA vaccines might cause long term harm to the recipients.   This harm will be greater as the recipients get younger.   The vaccine might later make them more susceptible to future virus infections.   The effects of the vaccine might cause other damage such as brain damage (especially for young children getting vaccines), organ failure, cancer, or other chronic illnesses.
  • Among the risks are reducing their ability to reproduce through sterility or through having birth defects.   As a result, this option may put at risk future lives with lower fertility rates where missing births would never be counted as deaths, but will greatly impact the future of humanity and the world they will have to live in.

The trolley problem we faced was that leaving this disease take its course would put at risk the lives of people who are mostly elderly or dealing with other conditions.   We chose to follow a different path that puts at risk the lives of the younger generation either through premature death or a greatly degraded quality of life than they would have if the choice had not been taken.

There is a clear moral choice here and either choice is valid, but depends on the objectives we prize most.   It appears we have made the choice to prioritize the short term preservation of current lives and especially of the elderly and those with other conditions.   The alternative is to prioritize the long term preservation and protection of the lives of the survivors of the next couple years.   Those are the lives of the younger generation.

The current project of economic shut down and eventual universal vaccination of a vaccine that will not be tested for safety will have profound impacts on the young generation ranging from denying them the prosperity they otherwise would have enjoyed to denying them their full lives or their ability to bring about the next generation.

As I discussed in earlier post, I proposed a fantasy government that replaces human decision makers with machine decision making.   In this government, the democratic processes are redirected from choosing human representative to:

  • collecting and checking most recent and most diverse data about the current situation
  • determining the times of urgency demanding policy making where those policies will expire shortly so as to require a continuation of a sense of urgency to enact new policies
  • and selecting the algorithm to exercise when triggered by the urgency, and most importantly selecting the measures of merit to optimize for

Missing from the current political process that is locking us into our current path is any discussion about the compromise we are making.    We are choosing a short term goal of preserving the past as if this has consequences for the future of our society or even species.   It may be debatable whether considering the long term consequences would change the chosen policies especially due to political power among the elderly (most of the powerful people in government are old themselves).   However, I think many would prefer that we optimize our policies for the most benefit of the younger generation so their lives are prosperous and fulfilling and that they may bring about healthy generations to follow them.

In my mind, the preferred option is to continue our progress to improve life not just for humanity but for the planet and beyond.   Ultimately that project is what we risk with our current policies.

One thought on “COVID19 Trolley Problem

  1. Pingback: Future is antagonist of government | Hypothesis Discovery

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