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Consider the case of the collapsed mine shaft.  In a coal mining town of West Virginia, some miners were digging coal in a tunnel thousands of feet below the surface.  Some gas buildup had been detected during the two preceding days.  This had been reported by the director of safety to the mine manager.  The buildup was sufficiently serious to have closed down operations until it was cleared.  The manager decided that the buildup was only marginally dangerous, that he had coal orders to fill, that he could not afford to close down the mine, and that he would take the chance that the gas would dissipate before it exploded.  He told the director of safety not to say anything about the danger.  On May 2nd, the gas exploded. One section of the tunnel collapsed, killing three miners and trapping eight others in a pocket.  The rest managed to escape.

The explosion was one of great force, and the extent of the tunnel’s collapse was considerable.  The cost of reaching the men in time to save their lives would amount to several million dollars.  The problem facing the manager was whether the expenditure of such a large sum of money was worth it.  What, after all, was a human life worth?  Whose decision was it and how should it be made?  Did the manager owe more to the stockholders of the corporation or to the trapped workers?  Should he use the slower, safer, and cheaper way of reaching them and save a large sum of money or the faster, more dangerous, and more expensive way and possibly save their lives?

He decided on the latter and asked for volunteers.  Two dozen men volunteered.  After three days, the operation proved to be more difficult than anyone had anticipated.  There had been two more explosions, and three of those involved in the rescue operation had already been killed.  In the meantime, telephone contact had been made with the trapped men who had been fortunate enough to find a telephone line that was still functioning.  They were starving.  Having previously read about a similar case, they decided that the only way for any of them to survive long enough was to draw lots and then kill and eat the one who drew the shortest straw.  They felt that it was their duty that at least some of them should be found alive; otherwise, the three volunteers who had died rescuing them would have died in vain.

After twenty days, the seven men were finally rescued alive; they had cannibalized their fellow miner.  The director of safety who had detected the gas before the explosion informed the newspapers of his report.  The manager was charged with criminal negligence; but before giving up his position, he fired the director of safety.  The mine eventually resumed operation.

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