This morning I finally got around to listening to a recording of a Radio 4 program about Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. The Heinz dilemma is a frequently used example in many ethics and morality classes. One well-known version of the dilemma, used in Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, is stated as follows:
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?
There is much I might say however the hour is late and perhaps it’s best to just sit with the above. In fact that’s just what we do with moral dilemmas isn’t it? And then there is responding…best one knows how.
Hat-tip to my fellow monastic for the recording and to his late mother, who spent time studying with Lawrence Kohlberg.