The Trolley Problem

Last year I took the Coursera course: Moralities of Everyday Life. I'm glad I did, because it was totally different from what I usually like to read/study.

One of the more interesting cases was presented in the first week: the Trolley Problem. I found an article in the NY Times that talks about it (note: it's a very long article, but worth the read).

On your morning walk, you see a trolley car hurtling down the track, the conductor slumped over the controls. In the path of the trolley are five men working on the track, oblivious to the danger. You are standing at a fork in the track and can pull a lever that will divert the trolley onto a spur, saving the five men. Unfortunately, the trolley would then run over a single worker who is laboring on the spur. Is it permissible to throw the switch, killing one man to save five? Almost everyone says “yes.”

Consider now a different scene. You are on a bridge overlooking the tracks and have spotted the runaway trolley bearing down on the five workers. Now the only way to stop the trolley is to throw a heavy object in its path. And the only heavy object within reach is a fat man standing next to you. Should you throw the man off the bridge? Both dilemmas present you with the option of sacrificing one life to save five, and so, by the utilitarian standard of what would result in the greatest good for the greatest number, the two dilemmas are morally equivalent.
— The New York Times (2008)

What would you do?