As captain of an starship, you respond to a distress call coming from a station orbiting a heavily urbanized planet. The station’s engines have failed, and it is falling towards the planet as its orbit decays. You rush in and start evacuating personnel, but before you are done the station enters the planet’s dense and electrically charged atmosphere. Your transporters and tractor beams are useless.
According to your officers’ records, there are 147 life signs left aboard the station. They could get to escape pods and save themselves, landing somewhere in the planet in relative safety. However, that procedure will take so long the station will end crashing on the surface and your crew estimates the resulting life loss in at least a thousand people. You have an alternative: You can order the station fired upon. The destruction of the station will reduce the falling impact to relatively harmless debris. But there is no way the remaining crew could escape in time before you are forced to destroy it.
Of course, you could order them to use the auto-destruction system themselves, without time to get to the escape pods, but it’s a hard decision to put on their shoulders, and you have no guarantee they will comply.
Would you fire your torpedoes on the station? Come to the forums to let us know, and afterwards check the Wikipedia article on the trolley problem to know the original formulation of this classical dilemma.
This is a new edition of our category Morals of Trek, where you are in the shoes of a Starfleet Captain facing a dilemma any of our favourite characters could have faced in Star Trek. If your crew has faced any such dilemmas and you want to see it featured in a Poll of the Week, let us know!