Lawrence Kohlberg

Another thought experiment (this one inspired very slightly by FloatyKatja‘s recent soup observations):

A woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to produce. He paid £200 for the radium and charged £2,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about £1,000, which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said, “No, I discovered the drug and I’m going to make money from it.” So Heinz got desperate and broke into the man’s store to steal the drug for his wife.

Should Heinz have broken into the laboratory to steal the drug for his wife? Why or why not?

Katja was talking about soup, you see.  Heinz soup.  Get it?


Filed under Thought experiment

17 responses to “Lawrence Kohlberg

  1. Mas

    Simply, “no” – theft is wrong however we justify it.
    The drug was unproven; was only a “may have an effect” (I’m assuming the way it would affect the wife would be cure or not cure)
    assuming the drug is only used on this “special cancer” and either cures or doesn’t, then the chemist can justify charging large amounts; an assumption can be made that the chemist will buy a quantity and then store it until it’s needed. at £200 a shot; and then assuming a limited shelf life – then it can be considered reasonable on the part of the chemist to charge 10 x the amount; unless an epidemic occurs and everyone needs the drug, he is going to make losses on it.

    He also has a right – irrespective of reasons and justifications – to charge as he will. Which is sort of what is suggested in his response to Mr Heinz. He isn’t being altruistic; he’s in it for what he can get (and I guess for as long can get it!) He also has the right to decide whether or not to give credit. And so on.

    However; it is very hard to stand by and watched your loved one die; particularly knowing that there is a potential cure. it is the panacea that is just out of reach; had it not existed, the hope would have been extinguished as would her life, eventually….

    So I’m saying that Heinz was wrong to steal the drug…
    But the chemist could have been less of an arse

  2. No, it wouldn’t have been right regardless….There are plenty of idiots in this world who unfortunately care more about their bank account than a human life. Regardless, it would not justify our bad choices, any more than theirs. This sounds alot like the problems we have in America…we can go to Mexico and get the same thing for 1/4 of the cost…it’s rediculous! Hope ur doing well froginess!

  3. I agree with the others. For as much as I love my husband, two wrongs do not make a right. Besides, we’re not afraid to die, remember? ;o) It’s just a journey to greater things.

    BTW, as usual, I posted your comment on my blog with a rebuttal. Good times! Seriously! I enjoy reposting your words so that through them I can better expose the truth.

    Stop on by…

  4. It would be illegal. But I would have done it with quite a clear conscience.Taking your story at face value, with out adding any other literary variables, why wouldn’t I ? To let this woman die because of the economic ‘rights’ of this doctor is a case of the letter of the law smothering the spirit of the law. The great problem of society, as well as all religion.

  5. Quick answer: No he shouldn’t have.
    However, would I have done the same as Heinz? I don’t know. I’m not normally one for illegal behaviours. I’m not much of a risk taker, so I’d have to calculate…… *calculates*
    OK, since I’m in England, I’d have probably done as Heinz did. Without the drug, my wife is dead anyway, so I’d do whatever I could to cure her, and if caught, I’d let the jury decide whether I had sufficient mitigating circumstances. If the drug didn’t work anyway, I’d probably get off because I’d be grief-stricken and could use that to my advantage in the court-room, and if the drug worked, it would lend weight to my case as far as ‘natural justice’ goes.

  6. Mas are you saying that the hope of a cure is justification for its theft? It’s still wrong to steal from another but the ends mitigate the means.

    Deb, so it is wrong for Heinz to steal something and the druggist is justified in charging what he likes? The issues with getting drugs (medicinal ones) from a cheaper source are simply a consequence of supply and demand. Supply at a lower price and consumers will purchase there instead of the higher priced supplier. All other factors being equal.

    Maria, I read your response. It was very good. Anyway, it is wrong to steal a potentially life saving drug under any circumstances. Is that your opinion? Your justification for this is that you have no fear of death.

    Christian, yes it would be illegal but would Heinz be justified in stealing the drug? You say yes because the justification is that life is of more value than property.

    Spaniel, you would steal the drug and throw yourself on the mercy of the law? Your assumption being that natural law would vindicate you.

  7. Hi hoverfrog!

    I would steal it for a loved one, especially if it were one of my kids who was sick. Sure, it’s wrong to steal. And it’s wrong to kill, but I would also kill if someone tried to hurt one of my kids. Good people do many things that are “wrong” for many reasons, especially in desperation.

    I really don’t think I can say whether it’s right or wrong without having been in their shoes.

  8. Linda, isn’t that the point of morality though? How we justify our actions and whether these are acceptable to society.

  9. Hoverfrog,

    So… the druggist who’s motivation is greed gets more rights than Heinz who’s motivation is love? What is morality? Acceptable to society… hmm… Does it mean that one has morality when he/she abides by all the rules, finding loop holes to benefit them whenever they can?

    Is it moral for the rich to keeping taking from the poor and getting richer with the lawyers (and the government) on their side?

    This is a great thought experiment. And I’m very surprised how easily people answer the question. But you never said what your answer is.

  10. Ugh! typo – keep taking

  11. In our society this is the case. Society being exactly what we make it. We value the rights of property above the needs of people. If people (who make up the collective society) wold punish Heinz for stealing to save his wife then the property rights of the druggist outweigh the life of Heinz’s wife.

    I don’t agree with that but society needs rules and the rules need to be enforced. The druggist has a right to sell the drug to whoever he pleases for the price he likes. Suppose it is stolen from him and then another person needs it but the druggist cannot afford to make any more because he’s been robbed. Perhaps the profit from his first sale would fund research into other cures for other diseases. These are reasons why we protect the property rights of individuals and companies.

    When these rights outweigh an individuals right to survive or a right to treatment then we clearly have a problem. One solution is to provide funding from a central source (our taxes) for such treatment and enforce the rights of the individual as a civic duty. This system is fraught with peril for which treatments, even which patients get the biggest share of the funding? Where do you draw the line? What is excluded? Another is to provide an insurance scheme in the hope that most people will pay more than they require in their lifetime and so fund those who require more. This excludes the poor who cannot even afford basic insurance and the foolish who choose to take a risk that they won’t ever need it.

    Now, if it was me, I’d steal the drug. I’d kill the druggist if he tried to stop me. I’d know it was wrong and I’d expect to go to prison for my crime. I am aware of the repercussions of my actions and how the rest of society would view them. I just wouldn’t care.

    Now in Heinz’s case I’d support his theft just as I would support someone stealing bread to feed his family. He would have my sympathy but he should still be punished for his crime. He is not a danger to society and is unlikely to continue his criminal activities so he should recompense the druggist and work for the community rather than go to prison.

  12. Deborah

    No, Hov, the whole thing is corrupt. Did you miss this part?

    “There are plenty of idiots in this world who unfortunately care more about their bank account than a human life.”

    I think greed and prestige has more to do with it than supply and demand. Hey I had a dream about you last night!!! We had a complete conversation by phone, you have quite the accent!!!! LOL Hope your day is going well! Debs

  13. Deb, I agree that the questions does indicate a lot of corruption. There are no easy choices in this thought experiment unless you choose to make it easy by simplifying it. That’s usually something I’m keen on but in this case I think the point is not to simplify things. I also agree that greed is a prime motivator in this example. Is it the greed of the druggist or the greed of Heinz though? Greed in the desire to secure the life of his wife.

    As for your dream I must say that I am not responsible for what you dream about. 😉 Make sure to tell your husband that. I must also point out that I have no accent at all, it’s everyone else that talks funny. I’m the normal one.

  14. LOL hahahaha

    Don’t worry Hov, Jer laughed when i told him….you crack me up…

  15. “You say yes because the justification is that life is of more value than property.”

    Absolutely. But we must have some sort of rule of law. I would be guilty of breaking the law. When taken before a judge and/or jury they have the right to look at the circumstances and determine whether or not they should be considered. Whatever the verdict, I would be prepared for the judgment. A person’s life is certainly worth it.

  16. Whitecrow

    I have had this question before and it is completely illogical. In the principle of economics you would only sell it for a 10-15% more so that the profit you recieve will be used to go to more study and technology to improve the process. Mass production of a product is was allows for the most profit. keeping it cheep is what allows mass production. Current state of affairs being as proof positive that making something cheep and selling it for a price beyond reason is part of what made our current econmic crisis. Heinz should not steal the product because he did not invent the drug and has no right to the work of someone elses mind without giving something of value in exchange. To consider need a claim to another persons’ work can be taken to the extreme that it is ok to kill the doctor to get the drug, and by killing the man who made it possible, removing the chance of the drug being used by someone else. I want to know how he could not get the money. He could sell his possesions, go to the bank, even as a last resort sell himself to get the money.

    The question used to be given with six answers that were just as illogical as the question itself. I believe that human will is stronger than the situations that they are in. A man has the power to do anything, short of the unethical, to solve any solution.

  17. i’m going to take a stab in the dark and guess Whitecrow is an economist – who else would suggest mass production was the ‘answer’ to a case of a SPECIAL – (read: RARE, and hence no mass demand for product to cure) cancer.

    Besides a marketing expert, of course 😉

    i suppose the druggist should try to cause as many as possible to be afflicted with the cancer so he can spread his R&D Costs as widely as possible to make the drug more cheaply and ensure continuing profits and career path.

    Should Heinz break society’s rules simply to ensure his Loved One’s chances of survival are the highest possible? (she may still die as the question states she MIGHT be saved by the drug – no drugs are 100% beneficial or effective in all cases.)

    It may be ethically, morally and logically wrong to from Heinz’s society’s standpointbut being Human ( i assume?) i’m guessing Heinz probably will, whatever other’s believe is the right or wrong thing to do..

    When deep emotions (like love) are concerned all other concerns of man’s mentality usually go clear out the window.

    Maybe he just should have made her some chicken soup – or some Big Red? Mmmmmmmmmm 🙂

    Or made an appeal for funds to the local TV news station – “ah always relah on the kindness of strangers”..


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