The ol' Kohlberg story...

After being directed to a bit of ilp history today, I thought I’d throw out an old dilemma (paraphrased and changed for no great reason) from Lawrence Kohlberg (some may remember him from Intro Psych textbooks…).

Susan’s lover, Mary, is dying of HIV/AIDS. They both live in a tiny, secluded village, where someone has come up with a cure for this disease. The treatment costs $100,000. Susan begs and borrows money from everyone she knows but can come up with only $50,000. She takes this to the pharmacist who created the drug and begs him to sell it to her, with the promise of paying the rest of the amount over the next two years (of course she explains that Mary is dying and near the end of the line). The pharmacist refuses, saying “I made this drug and I deserve to reap the benefits of my (tax-funded) research,” even though the treatment costs only $1,000 to produce. Desperate, Susan later breaks into the pharmacist’s office to steal the drug.


I have a question, if Mary was faithful to Susan, how could she contract HIV/AIDS?

The pharmacist is under no legal obligation to dispense the drug to Mary. But s/he may be under moral obligation to do so.

The story is a good illustration of some of the conflicts that exist with legal and ethical obligation of a commercial enterprise.

Good for her…I just hope she didn’t leave any evidence behind. As a bonus, she now has fifty grand to take her lady on vacation! :wink:

just so we can all hate american crapitalism a lot more, the pharm companies love to say that their drugs cost so much because research costs so much. first, they charge america way more than the rest of the world due to “market forces” aka “americans have cash to blow”

but also, and much more enragingly, taxpayers pay for 40% of all pharm research!!! we should get 40% of our drugs for free because we paid for them already!! this is also true for lots of new technologies like computers and the internet, taxpayers buy the research, the govt donates that research to a billionaire who then proceeds to charge america a 300% markup for the products that they paid to research. we bought it, gave it to a billionaire, and now we are buying it back. its hard to type when my keyboard is completely caked in vomit.

susan is immoral because she failed in her duties to disembowel the pharmacist with her bare hands.

:astonished: Nearly spilled my coffee on that one! (can we get an icon for that? Anyone? Huh? Just wondering…)

Thanks for my laugh of the day, FM! :laughing: :laughing:

Pysque must have forgotten to mention that this took place in the 80’s before they started screening blood transfusions.

Whoever mentioned anything about being faithful? And even if Mary were to have contracted the disease by transfusion, the story could take place in the present b/c some strains of HIV take YEARS to become detected and then to start the path to one’s body being ravaged by disease. Also, what if SUSAN had been unfaithful and passed on the HIV to Mary? There are cases where someone can pass on the virus without ever showing any signs of its effects themself. Or maybe Susan is in the early stages of HIV/AIDS and so far symptom free. Or maybe Mary contracted the disease before she met Susan (or vice versa). So many possibilities…

But regardless, back to my initial question: POR, interesting that you would focus on (lack of) faithfulness. So far, pretty interesting point people are raising. The original Kohlberg question would be “Was Susan right or wrong?” but I prefer my more open-ended question to see what points people pick up on. I hope more people share their thoughts…

Lawfulness and obedience to authority are easy to support, except when it gets personal. Then suddenly all bets are off.

I agree that life is more important that money. Especially when that life is near and dear to you. We don’t often have the same reaction when the death is far away, even if many people die. As Stalin noted, “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.”

Yet is the thief willing to accept the consequences of her act? After she has assured that her partner is going to survive does she turn herself over to the police to be prosecuted for her act of theft? Or does her act of saving a life absolve her of that action?

The ends justify the means for taking action, but I think they don’t absolve her of the consequences of stealing. Eventually she should turn herself in for the theft. It was wrong for the man to withhold the medicine and it was wrong to steal the medicine. It was less wrong to steal, but still wrong.

Didn’t Aquinas argue that it was not immoral for a starving man to steal food, because his need was greater than to whom the food orginally belonged?

Another way of looking at it, though related,(the teleological approach) the primary purpose of a cure for a disease is to cure said disease, profit is secondary at best. To deny that someone may be cured in order to profit is immoral.

If Jean Val-Jean steals the loaf of bread, then he is going to be prisoner 24601. This demonstrates the lack of perfect symmetry between morality and law. Only excellent judgement can hope to bridge this gap.

The cure for the disease did not manfiest itself. It took the work of a man. What was it that motivated the man? Did he create the cure so that it could fulfill its own purpose, or did he have some other motivation? We might say that he is using the situation for his advantage. He takes advantage of the gap between his limited supply and the large demand. A gap usually bridged by power and money.

he certainly deserves a profit for doing hard work that nobody else wanted to do, but his profit should be calculated according to the work that he put into the product and the costs to him.

profits should not be a ridiculous arbitrary amount subject to “market forces” which are merely a euphemism for taking advantage of the consumers as much as they possibly can. if the consumer has money, prices go up because the market says so (drugs in america). if there arent enough of the product, prices goes up because suckers will pay (tickle me elmo).

thats not what you would do if you were selling products to your family.