Originally published 22 September 20
Here is an excerpt:
Indeed, doctors follow a similar logic. In a May paper in the New England Journal of Medicine, a group of doctors from different countries suggested that hospitals consider prioritizing younger patients if they are forced to ration ventilators. “Maximizing benefits requires consideration of prognosis—how long the patient is likely to live if treated—which may mean giving priority to younger patients and those with fewer coexisting conditions,” they wrote. Perhaps, on a global scale, we’ve internalized the idea that the young matter more than the old.
The Moral Machine is not without its criticisms. Some psychologists say that the trolley problem, a similar and more widely known moral dilemma, is too silly and unrealistic to say anything about our true ethics. In a response to the Moral Machine experiment, another group of researchers conducted a comparable study and found that people actually prefer to treat everyone equally, if given the option to do so. In other words, people didn’t want to kill the elderly; they just opted to do so over killing young people, when pressed. (In that experiment, though, people still would kill the criminals.) Shariff says these findings simply show that people don’t like dilemmas. Given the option, anyone would rather say “treat everybody equally,” just so they don’t have to decide.
Bolstering that view, in another recent paper, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, people preferred giving a younger hypothetical COVID-19 patient an in-demand ventilator rather than an older one. They did this even when they were told to imagine themselves as potentially being the older patient who would therefore be sacrificed. The participants were hidden behind a so-called veil of ignorance—told they had a “50 percent chance of being a 65-year-old who gets to live another 15 years, and a 50 percent chance of dying at age 25.” That prompt made the participants favor the young patient even more. When told to look at the situation objectively, saving young lives seemed even better.