With the Holocaust issue turned down to a low simmer (I think he’s trying to be provocative), our class moved today to workplace ethics. We served up a nice platter of Lawrence Kohlberg and his famous and delicious “Heinz’s Dilemma”:
In Europe, 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 make. He paid $200 for the radium and charged $2000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick womanÂs husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about $1000 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, ÂNo, I discovered the drug and IÂm going to make money from it.Â So Heinz got desperate and broke into the manÂs store to steal the drug for his wife.
Should the husband have done this? Why?
Which did a great job of spurring a wonderful discussion with lots of spirited debate and enjoyable exploration of moral reasoning (which is the point of the exercise). Until one student, apparently frustrated by my lack of clear answers, screwed up her courage and challenged me.
Determined Student: So, what’s the answer?
Earnest Professor: …well, there isn’t an answer. Kohlberg’s whole point is that–
DS: (slightly exasperated) — answer the question!
EP: What is the question?
DS: (thoughtfully and deliberately) Is it ethical to be unethical?
EP: (quizzically) What do you mean by that?
DS: Just what I said! Answer the question!
EP: I’m not sure you’re understanding the exercise here…
DS: I’m understanding it just fine. Why don’t you answer the question?
EP: (hesitant) …of whether it’s ethical to be unethical.
DS: (with arms crossing and eyebrows rising) Right.
EP: (taking quiet breath) I think that’s what is meant by the word “dilemma”. Either way a person chooses, they will be ‘unethical’. They would break the law, or leave the wife to die.
DS: OK, so why don’t you just answer the question?
EP: (looking around at the empathetic eyes of a few students) I don’t think the question is fair, so I’d have to answer ‘yes’–
EP: …and no…
Is it me? Am I getting through to anyone?