Imagine that you are a Jewish doctor in a Nazi concentration camp. About 100 of your fellow inmates suffer from diabetes, and you only have a limited supply of insulin, with no guarantee of more on the way. Do you give each patient the same amount regardless of individual need, knowing that all of them will likely die within a month? Or do you reserve your supply for those with a greater chance of survival, meaning that those with severe diabetes will die much sooner as a result?
Or imagine that you are the Greek Jewish teenager from Salonika who’s picked up enough German from polishing the boots of the Nazi officers occupying your city that when you are eventually deported to Auschwitz, your linguistic abilities land you a low-level clerical job, instead of a spot in the gas chamber. In the camp administrative office, you have access to the index-card system that assigns each prisoner to a different slave-labor brigade — most of which involves punishing physical work in the freezing outdoors, with the risk of frostbite, pneumonia, beatings, or even execution for those deemed by the guards to be slacking off.
One of your fellow prisoners, who is near death, begs you to sneak his card into the box of a different brigade, one with lighter duties. As long as your Nazi overlords don’t catch you, it’s in your power to do that. But if you decide to help your friend, then you have to switch his card out with that of another person from the same brigade, and then that person spends his or her days facing snow, ice, and death from starvation. What do you do? And, come to think of it, how on earth did you end up in this position?