Trolley Dilemmas Fail to Predict Ethical Judgment in a Hypothetical Vaccination Context

Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics
Volume 14 Issue 1, February 2019

Research Participants’ Perspectives on Ethical Issues
Trolley Dilemmas Fail to Predict Ethical Judgment in a Hypothetical Vaccination Context
Fredrik Andreas Dahl, Gry Oftedal
First Published November 1, 2018; pp. 23–32
We investigated whether the responses of 68 ethics committee members and staff to trolley dilemmas could predict their responses to research ethics problems concerning vaccine trials. Trolley dilemmas deal with the issue of sacrificing some for the benefit of many, which is also a core issue in the vaccination trial dilemmas. The subjects’ responses to trolley dilemmas showed no statistically significant correlation with their responses to our vaccination trial dilemmas. We concluded that, if there is a component of transferable intuition between the contexts, it must be small and dominated by other factors. Furthermore, the willingness to sacrifice some for many was larger in the trolley context, despite a more favorable risk/reward ratio and the voluntary participation of the subjects at risk in the vaccination situations. We conclude that one’s general willingness to trade lives in the trolley context may be an artifact that is due to its unrealistic setting.