Ethics question: Kill or be killed?

Last night in ethics class we were proposed a scenario that I’m going to propose here. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Ready? Here goes!

You and your group are visiting a country that is in the middle of a civil war. All of you are then captured by one of the militias. In order to be set free you must prove that you are not on the opposing side. This militia has also captured an innocent person who is their prisoner.   You are given two options:

  • Kill the innocent prisoner to prove your on their side which will set you all free.
  • Do not kill the innocent prisoner showing you are not on their side and all be killed.

What do you do and why?

tagged as in morality

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 sdansmith January 29, 2010 at 10:09 am

We cannot kill someone who is innocent, so if captured, we’d have to decline. Thankfully, I’m not in that actual situation, so I can just discuss this without thinking about my actual decision-making in the hostile situation. We just can’t trade an innocent life for our freedom. For Christ, it was the other way around.

2 Jerry January 29, 2010 at 10:51 am

There are no innocent, neither in my group nor the other prisoner. All of us deserve death and hell. The captors don’t hold the power of life and death, that is reserved to God alone.

I would hope that I would trust in God’s Providence and face this situation with the courage of my convictions. “Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him.”

3 Seth January 29, 2010 at 11:53 am


Jesus was faced with this dilemma, and he chose death on the cross. Yet he died for the guilty, not the innocent. I say we live like Jesus and prove we are on his side.

I was interested in the title of your post because I used it in my post tidY on loving our enemies. Anyways…hope you’re well.


4 barwal January 29, 2010 at 11:58 am

I’m dead.

5 Daniel Spratlin January 29, 2010 at 2:42 pm


There are innocent people from man’s perspective. If we were to apply the “none innocent” approach to real life, we could not justly condemn murder because all of us “deserve death.”

Bottom line: taking another’s life without just cause is a prima facie moral evil.

6 Bang January 29, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Umm. Kaboom. Kthxbye.

7 Les Puryear January 29, 2010 at 5:17 pm

We must abandon biblical principles for the sake of situational ethics. God has control over life and death, not me. I cannot kill anyone, thus I guess I die. And that’s okay.

8 Mark Lamprecht January 29, 2010 at 6:24 pm

Thanks for the responses everyone. So far I’m with you all in that I would die rather than kill someone else. I would not participate in killing therefore making myself culpable for murder.I also agree with Daniel that from our perspective there are innocent people. Especially, in this situation.

9 Jerry January 29, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Several have objected to my observation that none are innocent, so let me ask this question:

Would you, personally, kill someone who was guilty of being a member of the opposing forces so that you and your group could go free?

Me neither.

10 Daniel Spratlin January 29, 2010 at 7:24 pm


Could you elaborate more? Is this in the context of war? Are our lives in imminent danger?

11 Jerry January 29, 2010 at 7:56 pm

This is in the context of the original scenario.

12 Mark Lamprecht January 29, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Seth, that is very interesting about the title of your post. I need to check it out.

13 Daniel Spratlin January 29, 2010 at 9:41 pm

The original scenario has me as an outsider to the country’s civil war. Adding your situation then would erase the imminent threat of bodily harm to myself and our group. So, all things being equal, I do not find any justification in killing this person. Now this could change depending on a number of factors (e.g. reason for the civil war, conditions of our being captees, etc.).

14 michaelvol January 29, 2010 at 9:52 pm


There is a complicating factor built into the question that I think has been overlooked: our responsibility toward the other members in the group. None of us would want to kill an innocent person for own sake, but what about our duty of neighbor love to the many? This could of course be a version of the greater good argument which is not really an option for the Christian, but in a particular circumstance there could be a deontolofical component (e.g. having absolute certainty that all would go free if you did kill and a similar certainty that all would killed if you did not). Such a situation is almost inconceivable though, as ruthless people rarely act in good faith. The problem in the question is that the outcome for each option can only be assumed. The best option is not to kill. Given the uncertain outcome, there is no reasonable expectation of duty to defend the other folks. The only absolute we can honor with certainty is the absolute not to kill. I believe that is what God would require of us, but it is not so clear on first glance.

15 Mark Lamprecht January 29, 2010 at 11:25 pm


I’m not sure our responsibility to the rest of the group is being overlooked. Maybe, like me, others have considered it and still choose death. Considering the lives of others in this situation does seem to be a form of the greater good position.

It seems that the duty to our neighbor can cut both ways either to our own group or to the innocent captive. The deontological ethic would then call upon us to not kill the captive since murder by God’s standard is wrong. We would not get to judge either way, but to lay down our life by not murdering. We would just trust God in the whole situation.

There are a lot of unanswered/unknown assumptions which is what makes it so interesting. 🙂

16 Mark Lamprecht January 30, 2010 at 10:59 pm

I wonder if Romans 3:8 would fit here somewhat. Maybe a bit of a prooftext? “And why not j do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

Just thinking…

17 Craig February 7, 2010 at 6:38 pm

This sounds familiar. I think every ethics professor uses this example.

18 SirBrass May 3, 2010 at 7:06 pm

I would refuse. No matter the outcome, to kill that innocent person is murder, and that is sin. If God would rescue me from that situation, He would not do so by mandating that I sin. Not that He wouldn’t use that sin if it were His purpose to do so, but God is perfectly capable of ordaining that I go through that situation yet not commit the sin of murder in order to be freed. I would leave it in His Almighty hands.

Verification word: faith

19 juan July 18, 2010 at 3:25 pm

Since assumptions are being made, if these two options are true then the prisoner is dead. And if you want to excuse yourself of such act, then think of it as sacrifying yourself for the good of the others and beg forgiveness from the Almighty.
Personally humanity’s hypocrisy has no boundaries.
There is more to say to this scenario but let’s leave as is.


Previous post:

Next post: