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Smashley's avatar

Trapped in a sub at the bottom of the ocean. Can murder be legal or morally acceptable?

Asked by Smashley (12342points) June 21st, 2023
65 responses
“Great Question” (2points)

Obviously inspired by the news of the day. Imagine a scenario in which multiple people are trapped with limited air, facing guaranteed death if they are not rescued soon, due to limited air supplies. Would it be morally acceptable for the group to kill one or more of their companions, so that the others might have a better chance to live? Do other factors affect the morality of this decision? What would a court think if the rescue was successful? Would it matter if the murder was strictly necessary, had the timeline of the rescue been knowable?

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Answers

kritiper's avatar

Gun, gun, who has the gun?

zenvelo's avatar

Nope, not acceptable. It is problematic as there is no one in the group who can make the decision.

The group leader (“captain”) forfeits decision making by having screwed up the whole venture.

Even in similar circumstances of an isolated group without food, those who participate in cannibalism don’t designate one to die, but generally look to those who have died or those who are the weakest and closest to death,

ragingloli's avatar

No. If you are going to die, die with dignity.

Smashley's avatar

@zenvelo – however, in this scenario, all members will die at the same rate. The earlier the decision is made to kill, the better the odds of survival for the rest.

@kritiper – I would expect a group act of strangulation would be the most likely.

@ragingloli – except by losing dignity, they may not die.

ragingloli's avatar

@Smashley
“It’s not enough to survive. One must be worthy of survival.”

Smashley's avatar

@ragingloli – noble words for someone not trapped at the bottom of the ocean. Does the same apply to the mother in the MASH finale? From a certain point of view, the person willing to kill to save lives would be more “worthy” (whatever that means) than a group of people who resigned themselves to death. It’s basically the Trolley Dilemma. I’m not advocating for a right or wrong answer, but I’ll be the contrarian for the sake of discussion.

ragingloli's avatar

Here is an alternative:
Instead of killing someone else to, maybe, save others, why not offer yourself up for sacrifice?

Smashley's avatar

@ragingloli – this would be more acceptable, I suppose, though I imagine it is a rarer state of mind for those trapped in a desperate survival situation, unless they have kin they are trying to save.

canidmajor's avatar

@Smashley Your example of the MASH finale is a false equivalency, as the baby is unable to make any choices for itself.

Who is so worthy that they are worthier than the others?

Suicide is acceptable, murder is not.

zenvelo's avatar

^^^^GA for @ragingloli, (a first for me.)

I think @Smashley would be the first to go since he wants to play God.

LadyMarissa's avatar

WHY would anyone take a gun onto a submersible with only 5 people aboard??? That could mean that the bullet could penetrate the hull & EVERYBODY would die miserably by drowning!!! They should ALL be lying down taking shallow breaths in order to get the oxygen to last even longer in hopes of a miracle. One report that I saw indicated that they could possibly be on the surface waiting to be located & NOBODY is even looking for them there.

Now to answer the Q…back in 1972 there was a plane crash in the Andes with NO hope of a rescue. After 9 days, everyone voted that cannibalism was the answer to the problem. The difference is that they did wait until a person died naturally before consuming them. There is a movie & a book “Alive” that documents that journey. As well as I can remember, NOBODY was prosecuted when the survivors were eventually found. NO, they didn’t kill each other, but they did commit a crime with the cannibalism!!!

raum's avatar

Honestly, I don’t think you need to decide who to kill. People will start to die. And they won’t die at the same time.

The moral dilemma won’t be who to kill first. The moral dilemma will be whether or not to eat a deceased loved one.

Smashley's avatar

@zenvelo – To begin, attacking me for initiating a discussion of morality in desperate situations is not kind or intellectually honest. Second, there is no God. Third, I hope I would have the guts to offer my life. I’m not sure I would, but I can pretend I would. Yes, trying to remain calm and preserve oxygen could be the best scenario for all people, but it could also turn out that this supposedly moral action would kill all the people, when some may have been able to survive. I am aware these ideas fly in the face of common morality, but if the result is that some people survive, can that not be said to be the moral course of action? I suppose another layer to the question is, what if the rescue timeframe was knowable? It may be so that killing some on board could have the effect of preserving life, but if the rescue timeframe was known, and it was apparent that either some could kill to survive or none would survive, could the act then be considered moral? Would the legal consequences be different if the timeline was knowable?

@LadyMarissa – I doubt a gun would be involved in any scenario. I sincerely hope all those aboard the sub are alive and well, and awaiting rescue. I am merely using a real scenario as a jumping off point to discuss an interesting variant of the Trolley Dilemma. Succinctly, can it ever be moral to do an action that causes death, if not doing the action causes more death? Also, in the Andean example you mentioned, several people were dead from the beginning. Murder was not a course they needed to take to survive.

@canidmajor – I don’t think it’s exactly a false equivalency. The baby was unable to stop crying, requiring its death. Anyone with SCUBA training knows that some people consume oxygen at much higher rates than others. I would expect if this scenario happened, the person with the largest body, or who has the least control of their breathing due to the stressful situation, would be the one the group would be most likely to target.

Can we all just take a step back here? At worst I just have bad taste. I am trying to facilitate a discussion of the nuances of morality and the law here, not advocate for a what a group should do.

@raum – The oxygen will be depleted and replaced with carbon dioxide by all breathing survivors. The levels will become unsustainable to life at roughly the same time for all people. Once the first person dies, you cannot recover the oxygen they used or scrub the toxic carbon dioxide they emitted.

JLeslie's avatar

No! If they have personal oxygen tanks, my guess is the dad will want to give up oxygen for his son. If any of the men are much older, an older man might do the same for the much younger man, or the captain might offer to sacrifice himself for the others, but the problem is almost everyone will not be able to tolerate letting someone else die in front of them, so probably they will all die together. Incredibly sad situation. If the hull was damaged then they all might have died very quickly days ago.

The baby on MASH was slightly different. The mother chose between her baby likely being killed anyway or being captured by the enemy, and also risking everyone else. The baby was unaware of how the crying was endangering everyone. There are stories of mothers killing their babies to “save” them from enemy capture throughout history.

LadyMarissa's avatar

According to Bloomberg & CNN there have been irregular banging sounds every 30 minutes since Tuesday afternoon. Since we haven’t heard of them being found, I’m NOT sure what to believe. One expert said it could be a lot of things creating the banging but the article didn’t give the full report on “what things” might be doing it. Now the question would be…can they hone in on the area of the banging??? There’s a LOT of area to cover!!!

SnipSnip's avatar

There would be no legal problem if the issue was decidedly suicide rather than murder.

Blackwater_Park's avatar

I was just thinking of the father and son. I would like to think the father would allow himself to be killed to give his son another day or so.

Smashley's avatar

@SnipSnip – but would there be a legal problem if the action that saved lives definitely was murder?

@LadyMarissa – again, I am trying to move away from discussion of those poor people in the sub. It is a terrible situation. I obviously asked this too close to the real events, but since people are dying unjustly everywhere, every day, I personally find it hard to be too particularly upset about their scenario, as horrible as it is. I simply found the unique scenario to possibly provide different insights into the Trolley Dilemma.

Smashley's avatar

@Blackwater_Park – one difficulty with this would be that the impulse to sacrifice one’s self would presumably come much later in the situation, when hope and oxygen were dwindling. The impulse to kill could come from a place of cold calculation much earlier, when it still might make a difference.

chyna's avatar

The Sago Mine disaster happened in WV in 2006. 12 died, one survived. Barely.
They all knew they were slowly dying and wrote letters to their loved ones.
They each had a Self Contained Self Rescuer SCSR that gave them about an hour of breathable air. No one fought over the others air. No one killed the other. So to answer the question, maybe no one will feel the need to kill the other person.

Smashley's avatar

@JLeslie – indeed our past is full of stories of people killing innocents to protect others, whether in war or during famine or epidemic. We don’t blame these people for being trapped in horrible and desperate situations. The similarity is that no one can help that they need to use oxygen and emit carbon dioxide, any more than a baby can stop crying, and to a large extent they cannot help how much oxygen they consume. From my experience underwater, I know that some people can use oxygen at much higher rates. I have personally witnessed consumption rates 3X higher than other people. It seems like you might acquiesce that if a person was obviously a large consumer of oxygen, they might be morally the best target for a group saving murder.

Smashley's avatar

@chyna – an interesting scenario. Everyone having an equal, but low shot at survival does feel like the easiest for the group to agree on. Is this truly human nature? To what extent does the comradeship of workers contribute here, versus a group of strangers?

Blackwater_Park's avatar

I do think if the sub is intact, they all know they are going to die regardless and will likely do nothing. Odds are they have already succumbed to the cold down there.

KNOWITALL's avatar

In the case of pedophiles it SHOULD be, in my opinion.
Morally all murder, unless in self-defense, is wrong as all life has value.

Four men are in that sub I read, so I’d think if anyone survives it would be the youngest man.

Smashley's avatar

@KNOWITALL – gotcha. So first they should survey the group to see if anyone has a sexual attraction to children, THEN murder is ok.

chyna's avatar

@Smashley Good point. All the men in the Sago Mine were friends and neighbors. Not sure how strangers would react.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Smashley Abortion and war/combat are also exceptions for many people. Others have killed family with terminal diagnosis. It’s all in your justification, not everyone cares about legal repercussions, obvi.

Smashley's avatar

@KNOWITALL – I am not saying they should weigh the legal repercussions when it comes to their survival. I’m wondering how the legal system would react, after the fact.

zenvelo's avatar

@Smashley ”...attacking me for initiating a discussion of morality in desperate situations is not kind or intellectually honest. Second, there is no God.

I did not “attack you”. My response was that the one who proposes to put themselves as the decision maker is playing God (whether or not one believes in God) deserves to be the one who is sacrificed for the common good.

And your supposition that killing of one is a moral decision is your arbitrary construction of morality. Many of us on here describe a moral framework of equal suffering, rather than choosing a “winner”.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Smashley With terminally ill patients, taking it into your own hands is first-degree murder. See Ellen Gilland case in Daytona Beach.
Obviously avortion varies state to state.
If you are referencing the sub story, it would likely be the same. See the Kim Wall case. Charged with negligent homicide as he also tortured and had sex with the corpse.

elbanditoroso's avatar

in the OP’s example, dealing with missing sub, what would the murder actually accomplish? My assumption is that these people are goners; killing someone to let yourself live 4 more minutes seems, at best, strange.

The best parallel I can come up with is when the Donner party ate each other (cannibalism) in the winter of 1946–47. Some people were eaten. Some lived. But the ones who did the eating were shunned for the rest of their lives.

This isn’t a good situation, but I don’t see what murder would do to ameliorate the problems.

ragingloli's avatar

@elbanditoroso
The intent is to buy time for the potential rescue.
Obviously, considering the type of people on board, all of them 1 percenters, none of them will volunteer to be killed, nor will any of them have the stones to do the killing themselves.

Smashley's avatar

@zenvelo – you accused me of advocating for the morality of doing the killing to extend one’s own life or that I advocated that the person with the will to kill unprovoked should be allowed to, and that I was eager to “play God” whatever that can mean in this context. I’m just trying to see if we can come to an agreement about what a moral course of action would be, and how a court might see it, after the fact. If I am pushing back on some people’s assessments, it’s because they potentially have certain flaws in reasoning.

As I see it, you do feel that killing a person in this situation might be morally acceptable, though only if they showed murderous intent. The killing would be to prevent potential killing, and the air bonus would just be a side effect. Perhaps there could be a better way to play this out, where the group doesn’t wait for a moral outrage, or kill the person who suggested the killing, but rather they all agree to draw lots, and kill a random one of the group. Another scenario might be to target the person consuming the most oxygen, if it were easily determinable.

@ragingloli – I don’t disagree, except that some one percenters might have such an inflated sense of their own importance and that they might all kill each other to the last man. I don’t believe a person who indirectly kills or causes suffering is that far from doing it themselves.

ragingloli's avatar

KARIDIAN: (reading) The revolution is successful, but survival depends on drastic measures. Your continued existence represents a threat to the well-being of society. (stops looking at the paper) Your lives means slow death to the more valued members of the colony. Therefore I have no alternative but to sentence you to death. Your execution is so ordered. Signed, Kodos, governor of Tarsus Four.
KIRK: I remember the words. I wrote them down. You said them like you knew them. You hardly glanced at the paper.
KARIDIAN: I learn my parts very quickly.
KIRK: Are you sure? Are you sure you didn’t act this role out in front of a captive audience whom you blasted out of existence without mercy?
KARIDIAN: I find your use of the word mercy strangely inappropriate, Captain. Here you stand, the perfect symbol of our technical society. Mechanised, electronicised, and not very human. You’ve done away with humanity, the striving of man to achieve greatness through his own resources.
KIRK: We’ve armed man with tools. The striving for greatness continues. But Kodos
KARIDIAN: Kodos, whoever he was
KIRK: Or is.
KARIDIAN: Or is. Kodos made a decision of life and death. Some had to die that others might live. You’re a man of decision, Captain. You ought to understand that.
KIRK: All I understand is that four thousand people were needlessly butchered.
KARIDIAN: In order to save four thousand others. And if the supply ships hadn’t come earlier than expected, this Kodos of yours might have gone down in history as a great hero.
KIRK: But he didn’t. And history has made its judgment.

Smashley's avatar

@ragingloli – so morality is assigned after the results have played out? I find this difficult to accept. In uncertain situations, the right action may have the wrong consequences. I have trouble seeing those actions as wrong. The Star Trek example uses a balance of equal numbers of people to place immorality on those who value some lives over others, but I also recall that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

canidmajor's avatar

@Smashley, you seem bent on reducing this to a numbers game, with liberal use of the word “morality”. You seem to be missing the word “humanity”. Human nature being what it is, who would you trust to do the killing? As a one-dimensional thought exercise, fine, but really, the whole thing is more complex. Why should any of them survive? Who decides who will contribute the most to society, who is the most deserving of life? Someone willing to kill another human for their own survival wouldn’t be my choice for Most Worthy.

Smashley's avatar

@canidmajor – I consider all lives to be equal, regardless of their contribution to society. I do not weigh human worth by achievement. What they might or might not contribute to society, I believe, is unimportant. Human nature is to survive, but in a terrible situation, I do believe that the number of people who survive is a worthwhile assessment of a moral act, since all lives are equal. I believe the discussion is approaching the notion that the group might morally decide to kill a person in the group who is a liability in that situation, or that they might do it by random choice, but only a few flutherers are willing to engage, and most prefer to be upset at me for asking.

smudges's avatar

Well there goes 9 minutes of my life I’ll never get back…

canidmajor's avatar

Oh, please, @Smashley, climb down off that high horse. You pose this as a thought exercise, then get annoyed with us when we ask for more defined parameters. We are all human here, I simply asked who would do the choosing and the killing. By being so vague, you keep the question one-dimensional, you might be asking about guppies.

Never mind.

Smashley's avatar

@canidmajor – I believe I was pretty clear that the group here seems to be moving towards the idea that a group trapped in a situation like this might find it’s own way of doing the choosing, presumably either a vote or a random draw. I feel that there are a great many dimensions to this question, and I did not hear you ask for more parameters, but if you did, I apologize for misunderstanding you. This is hypothetical, so we might introduce many parameters to better understand what morality means to us all. If you do not have the same touchstones of morality as I do, it would be helpful if you mentioned them. You have mentioned a couple concepts: “most worthy” and “greatest contribution to society”. I have trouble with these personally, as I don’t think anyone can be more worthy of survival, and that achievement is not a good way to assess human worth. These are my perspectives, but I know they are not the only ones.

JLeslie's avatar

@Smashley In history babies were sometimes killed to protect the baby. In my folk dance group we do the Dance of Zalongo. A story about women killing their babies and then themselves to avoid enslavement, rape, and torture. Here’s a wikipedia https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dance_of_Zalongo#:~:text=A%20number%20of%2060%20women,the%20Ottoman%20troops%20chasing%20them.

Unrelated but interesting and the opposite of killing the babies: During the underground railroad (Black people escaping slavery in the South by traveling in secrecy to the North) babies were reportedly drugged to keep them quiet. That was probably done in a haphazard way, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some died, but the intent was to save everyone.

During the Holocaust, Jewish children were killed en masse by the Nazis and children also had a more difficult time surviving the starvation and health conditions. Parents gave their children away to save them from that fate. This is more where my head was at in my first answer. I think the father would give his oxygen to his son, but probably his son couldn’t bear watching his father die in front of him in that circumstance.

jca2's avatar

In an enclosed space, like the submersible, if there are five people living and then one becomes deceased, how would that affect the air quality? Yes, it would mean less consumption of oxygen but would the decaying body give off gases that would have a negative affect (or is it “effect?”) on the others? That’s what I’m thinking as I ponder this hypothetical scenario.

chyna's avatar

^And as I think on this, the Donner Party comes to mind. That’s the story of American pioneers heading to California and got caught up in the snow for about a year in the 1800’s. They ended up surviving by cannibalism. They ate the people that died off.
The difference is that they could move/hide the bodies from their own sight lines so “out of sight, out of mind.” I can’t imagine it would be easy to do that in the cramped quarters of a submarine.

Jeruba's avatar

@jca2, effect.

seawulf575's avatar

I think that in a situation like these fools are in, the idea of murdering someone to help extend the oxygen supply would probably not come up until well beyond it being any use. 4 days of oxygen supplied on board. Murder would likely not become an issue until 3 of those days were done. At that point the length of time you would extend the O2 supply is minimal. Even if one guy killed the other four. Besides, the increased activity and O2 usage from killing the people would negate any gains you might have made.

Of course that assumes there isn’t a homicidal sociopath on board that would start killing as soon as there was a problem and that he had a way to kill everyone quickly.

Forever_Free's avatar

Sounds like this will be the new murder mystery dinner play location.

ragingloli's avatar

Anyway, the thing imploded. Got crumpled and squished like an empty coke can in a fraction of a second.

janbb's avatar

^^ Yup, the issue has been resolved.

ragingloli's avatar

And when you read up on the fact that the company deliberately skirted safety regulations in order to save costs, inlcuding firing an engineer when he pointed out that the glass they used for the front window was only rated for ⅓rd of the depth they were going to operate in, you realise that this submarine was undone by the same thing that claimed the Titanic: Hubris, Arrogance, Greed.

The company’s CEO openly complained about regulations being overly burdensome, and arrogantly proclaimed that his sub was “invulnerable”.
He built a coffin, and took other people with him to his watery grave.
This is not an accident, or a tragedy. It is a murder-suicide.

JLeslie's avatar

OMG. He fired the engineer? WTH?! Just horrible. I can only imagine the wife and mother of the father and son from Pakistan. I wonder if she didn’t want them to do it in the first place.

Days ago a friend of mine guessed that it likely imploded and crushed everyone inside.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Jeruba….no it’s “affect”. Jca2 got it right.

Blackwater_Park's avatar

I kinda though that the thing imploded. The Navy stood back and did nothing, I assume because they already knew.

ragingloli's avatar

@Blackwater_Park
Why should the taxpayer fix some billionaires’ mistakes? Something, Something, Bootstraps.

Dutchess_III's avatar

They’ve been searching frantically since Sunday @Blackwater_Park.

Blackwater_Park's avatar

@Dutchess_III Not the Navy. Not to their full capability. Mainstream news is even reporting now that the Navy essentially knew Sunday. Crenshaw was lamenting a few days ago that the Navy was not deploying their recovery equipment. Now we know why.

smudges's avatar

effect Use “effect” as a noun meaning “the result of a cause.” When people misuse “affect” with an “A”, they often intended this meaning of “effect” with an “E.” An “effect” in this sense is the opposite of a cause – an event that happens because of some other precipitating event happening.

”...the decaying body give off gases that would have a negative affect (or is it “effect?”) on the others?”

The decaying bodies have a negative effect (result) on the others.

Dutchess_III's avatar

She used it right

seawulf575's avatar

There are Navy SOSUS probes all over the North Atlantic that do nothing but listen 24/7. I’m pretty sure they heard the implosion and could tell what it was. Sound travels an amazing distance in the water.

chyna's avatar

^So if it happened on Sunday, I wonder why they didn’t say anything? A lot of time and money and effort went into looking for the sub.

janbb's avatar

@chyna I read an article that said they wanted to continue with it as a search and rescue operation but it does seem a little odd.

seawulf575's avatar

@chyna That is a good question. No idea. Maybe nobody asked them to review the data and maybe nobody was particularly listening at the time it happened. It also might not have happened immediately but took a day or so. But in a search, if I were conducting it, I would have reached out to them to review data from the timeframe in question.

janbb's avatar

This article from The Washington Post and others explain why they continued the search and rescue mission to assure them of no survivors..

zenvelo's avatar

@Blackwater_Park Don’t blame or accuse the Navy of being a bad actor. They reported the sound anomalies to the Coast Guard. They helped to locate the event.

The Navy doesn’t have submersible rescue equipment on standby and was not in a location to be of any use. And detecting the sound does not indicate any insight as to what happened. It’s not like there is an “implosion sound signature”.

Blackwater_Park's avatar

@zenvelo I don’t blame them at all. They actually don’t normally share info like this but they did in this case. That said, they really do know what an implosion signature sounds like. It is very distinct. The rescue attempts had to commence because the sound could have been from something else. There is no way to be 100% sure.

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