Scenario #1


macrumors Penryn
Original poster
Dec 27, 2002
Location Location Location
(Its not based on real life. However, I just want to hear some responses. If any of you have another situation to post, you can post "Situation #2 and we could keep a series going ;) )

Imagine that you are in a burning building with a long hallway. Its getting pretty bad in there, and the air is filled with dark, suffocating smoke. You just happen to be very close to the emergency staircase at the moment, so you can easily make it out alive and well. However, you have a young son, and he's at the other end of the hall. You have a small chance of getting to him and rescuing him, but there IS a chance.

However, in between you and your son are a lot of people who need help. Some are old, some are very young children, but they all need your help. They're lying at the sides of the hall, or in rooms in between you and your son, and you're 100% sure you can rescue many of them without putting yourself in harms way. They're crying for your help. It breaks your heart to hear them cry the way they do, as you have never seen people in such a dire situation.

Knowing that even if you do make it to your son, you may not be able to save him, do you:

1) Run down the hall, leaving all the other desperate men, women and children to help themselves? I mean, sure you could save quite a few of them, as they're close by, but you still have a small chance to save your son. However, going after your son means that all these other people will die.

2) Realize that your child will probably die, and save as many of these other people as you can, knowing that you made the most logical choice of saving people you KNEW you could save. :(


macrumors 604
Jan 14, 2005
visiting from downstream
I think this is a question that cannot TRULY be answered until you find yourself in that actual situation. Rational behavior often goes out the window in a real life-or-death situation.


macrumors regular
May 26, 2004
Massachusetts, USA
I'm a horribly heartless person sometimes, so I'd have to say I'd go for my son. But then again, were I actually there, I don't really know what I'd do.

Edit: With a few more minutes thought, I think I should clarify. Two reasons I would go for my son: 1) I lost my father at the age of 1, and I could never lose anyone else that close to me. 2) I have a small family, and I dearly wish I was surrounded by people. The more the merrier and all that.


macrumors 65816
Feb 15, 2005
It's a no-win situation: you save your son, multiple people die... you save the others, your son dies. Not only does your son die, but how do you explain to other members of your family that you basically let him die? It's a no-win either way, so as much as I would like to say that I would be selfless and help the others, I would choose to save my son.


macrumors G4
I rescue my son. There's only a limited chance that I get to him so chances are that if the fire's been spotted and the firefighters called, then there's little chance that they could rescue him.

So, I take his only chance and go for him and hope that the firefighters are en route and will be able to save the others closer to the emergency exit who have slightly more time available to them.

From a harsh viewpoint, if I allowed my child to die, I'd see his/her face in my dreams every night thereafter and wonder why I didn't try to save him/her. The others, I don't know, their deaths while tragic likely wouldn't haunt me in the same way.


macrumors regular
Nov 4, 2004
Deep South UK
As clayj said this isn't decision that would be made rationally. I would go for my son just because in that situation nature would take over and my brain would be telling me to save him at whatever cost. I think either way you would have extreme guilt to get over that would probably haunt you for the rest of your life but there is no way i could make a rational decision to let my son die. Its extremely selfish but thats what i would do


Moderator emeritus
Mar 16, 2004
Andover, MA
I'd try to save my son.

In real life, if it were one of my daughters, even if I knew I couldn't save her, I'd try. Period. I don't think rational thought would enter the equation.


macrumors 6502a
Oct 26, 2003
Richmond, VA
All moral dilemmas such as these generally result from a conflict duty from two most popular moral theories (Kant and Mill). In a nutshell, Kant might say that you have an absolute duty to protect your son, and yet Mill might say that the greatest good would be derived from the number of lives you could save. This is a gross oversimplification of the two (to the point where my ethics prof. would kill me if he ever read this), but you get the general idea.


macrumors 65816
May 23, 2005
Great White North
Very easy answer, save the son. Family first. You have no idea if you're sacrificing your son for someone you would absolutely despise, "yeah I'm sorry honey, I didn't save our son, but I did manage to save a pedophile and a serial rapist". That maybe extreme, but family first, unless of course your son is the pedophile/serial rapist etc. It's just to damn bad the other people didn't have family members at the end of the hall. Tough luck


macrumors 603
Aug 20, 2005
Thank you Jah...I'm so Blessed
well im going for my son......theres nothing more horrible of seeing your blood die that least i would try and if i cant save him then i'll save as much as i human nature tells me to get my offspring.

so i pick door number 3.



macrumors 65816
Apr 20, 2004
You would go for your son first. You have more of a connection with him and your are his father. It would be your first instinct. You would have more regret having your son die and saving 1 person than saving your son and having all the other people die.

This is sort of like doctors ethics. If there is a hold up at say a convenience store, and the criminal shoots someone and then gets shot by the police, who goes in the helecopter to the hospital if there is only one, the person who was shot in the stomach or criminal who was shot in the head (but still alive).

EDIT: You could also instead of options A & B you could go get help.


macrumors 6502a
Oct 16, 2003
Clayj is right, you can't know how you would react in a situation like that. Usually in situations of that nature most people react based on instincts and therefore I think most people would do everything they could to save their son. OR If you are really self-centered and a horribble parent you might just save yourself and run out of the building.


macrumors 65816
Apr 20, 2004
clayj said:
I think this is a question that cannot TRULY be answered until you find yourself in that actual situation. Rational behavior often goes out the window in a real life-or-death situation.
Well yes if you are not thinking rationally thinking you are being instinctive (unless high or retarded). But in this case it would be more like emotionally instinctive. You are attached to your child/offspring so I would say if you are a normal loving person you would definitely go after your child.

If it was a small child vs. a bunch of old people, you would save the child and not a 40 year old man.


macrumors 6502a
Jun 7, 2005
Right behind you.
Gotta go with my son. The world is getting overpopulated and needs a higher concentration of me :rolleyes:

Actually, I'm all about saving strangers as I've done it a couple of times. But I don't think I could do it at the expense of my own.


macrumors regular
Sep 11, 2005
Philadelphia PA
it is biological. in a real such situation you would not even consider anyone else in your way. your maternal/paternal instincts would take over and you would easily risk your life and the lives of others to save your offspring. watch any nature show and you will witness the amazing feats that most of the animal kingdom will perform inorder to protect their young.

Les Kern

macrumors 68040
Apr 26, 2002
I have a daughter, and she wouldn't be there. So I'd run like hell, swiping as many wallets and purses as I can on the way out.
Sorry my answer is as silly as the question...


macrumors 68030
Nov 16, 2004
Cloud 9 (-6)
MattG said:
rdowns said:
Are the people lying in the hallway Mac or Windows users?
Am I a bad person for laughing really hard at that?
:D Me too, I laughed out loud at work and had some co-workers come over because they thought I had received one of those funny video-mails we all get. Once they saw what I was laughing at, well it wasn't that funny (cause they all use Windows :p)

I have to throw another vote for uncertainty. I think instincts point to the son, hands down, but in that situation you might see a greater good pop its head up and realize that you can be of more use in saving others. It would be the ultimate sacrifice because I'm sure you with children would rather die than watch/sacrifice a child, but sometimes sh** just happens.

Personally, I'm pretty sure I would go for my son, regardless of the odds or risks, and I would definitely go even if it meant I was toast but he survived. As cold as it may be to run past all of those other people, they don't mean that much to a**holeish as that may be to say.