Is it ever okay to break the law?

Meghan - posted on 01/26/2011 ( 66 moms have responded )

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My psyc prof read us this situation is class tonite...



"A woman was near death from a unique kind of cancer. There is a drug that might save her. The drug costs $4,000 per dosage. The sick woman's husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money and tried every legal means, but he could only get together about $2,000. He asked the doctor scientist who discovered the drug for a discount or let him pay later. But the doctor scientist refused. Heinz broke into the laboratory and stole the drug."

Kohlberg- Heinz dilemma, development of moral reasoning.



After getting some of our answers she then asked



"What if your child/spouse/family friend" is a drug addict and commits a robbery to support their habit and you were made aware of it. Do you turn them in?" (The legal definition of robbery is the act of taking another's possessions or property by use of violence, intimidation or threat.)



So the two scenario's are obviously different. Is breaking the law in either situation ok, not ok, is one more justifiable than the other?

*Sorry just edited to add the last part of Kohlberg's questions

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Jenny - posted on 01/26/2011

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Do you know what the crime is here? A person's life is on the line because of profit. Our priorities are fucked.

JuLeah - posted on 01/27/2011

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I break the law all the time ... speed limt say 60, I do 70. Would I rob for a reason I felt was justified, you bet. Do the addicts feel their reason is justified? You bet.
It comes down to, if you get caught, can you make others see it your way? Put the right spin on any story and you can get others to agree - that is what a good attorney does. I work with attornies and that is exactly what they say. They don't need to tell the truth, whatever that is. They don't need to say what they think happened. They need to spin the story and make the jury believe - the need to create 'reasonable doubt' and for that they will tell a whopper .... I have watched attornies put folsk on the stand they knew were telling a lie - but it made their case.
Live within your ethics and guidelines .... in the above story, I'd find a way to get the drugs even if it meant breaking the law .... in the second story, were I am addict, I'd likely do that too. I am so glad I am not in that situation. I don't think I'd like myself very much (second story)

[deleted account]

So pretend you are in 1855 legally fighting to stop slavery, doing everything in your legal power to stop it. A runaway slave shows up at your door. If you turn this person away, don't you just basically undo everything you've fought for? There comes a time when you have to cross that line. We, in today's society, may never have to face this type of situation. I hope we don't. But there does come a time...

Oh wait, New Orleans 2005. No house...no shelter...no plumbing...no banks open...no stores open...police force basically non-existent...no way in or out of the city...hungry dehydrated kids...I would have totally broken into the grocery for a bottled water. So maybe it's not far fetched to think about breaking the law. But like I said, I truly hope no one here has to come to that point where they have to make that decision.

Jessica - posted on 01/27/2011

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"No Sara that isn't what I said I said to Laura that no law would ever exist that it would be against the law to be green eyed!!!"

The green eyed law was just an example- there have been many stupid, unjust laws in the past that are comparable to turning in green-eyed people. That's the point you seem to be missing. You can say all you want, "its still breaking the law and I would never do it"- but can you really apply that to all laws that have ever existed? And with some things- like over-turning slavery- there was really no way to "legally" get that changed. Some laws require being broken and protested before they will be changed.

~♥Little Miss - posted on 01/27/2011

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Sherri, I think she is trying to prove some laws are stupid....or need to be changed.

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Isobel - posted on 01/27/2011

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I think you'll find that that has almost never worked...laws are almost never changed from the inside, it requires civil disobedience to demand change...but hey, good on ya

Sherri - posted on 01/27/2011

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No because I would work my ass off to change the law LEGALLY. I just would not break the law in order to do it. If I don't like something I don't sit on my ass and just break the law, I get off my ass and do something about it to change it,

~♥Little Miss - posted on 01/27/2011

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Thank god I am not jewish in the world where I could be sent to prison wearing the star of David then,....and thank god I don't live around Sherri with this law in effect....wait...didn't we already have a war about that? (just jabbing your ribs a bit Sherri)

Sherri - posted on 01/27/2011

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If it was the law YES I would!! Let me make it clearer if it is the law I will follow it period!! Weather I agree or anybody else agrees with it. It is the law it is made for a reason and I will obey it!!

Isobel - posted on 01/27/2011

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ok Sherri, let's make it a little clearer...how bout if instead of people with green eyes, we used a different example...like people who wear stars around their necks instead of crosses.

Jessica - posted on 01/27/2011

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"So if the law states that you MUST turn in all people with green eyes to the state prison...you would do it? Surely it MUST be Ok to break the law when it's an unjust law. "

Sherri, would YOU do it? Would you do something that makes no sense whatsoever and is totally unjust simply because someone tells you to?

Sherri - posted on 01/27/2011

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GAH NO this was Lauras post directed at me.

So if the law states that you MUST turn in all people with green eyes to the state prison...you would do it? Surely it MUST be Ok to break the law when it's an unjust law.

~♥Little Miss - posted on 01/27/2011

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You are saying "green eyed" as in greedy right? Well, if that is how you are using it, then yes Sherri...there is indeed a law for that..or I should say against that. They are called monopolies...

Sherri - posted on 01/27/2011

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No Sara that isn't what I said I said to Laura that no law would ever exist that it would be against the law to be green eyed!!!

So try and get the laws changed legally Laura not just break them because you don't agree with them.

Stifler's - posted on 01/27/2011

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That's how laws get changed. People break them. There becomes a precedent law rather than a criminal code.

Isobel - posted on 01/27/2011

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running away from a slave-master would have been breaking the law. And helping a slave escape would've been against the law too

[deleted account]

I'm not trying to justify anything Sherri. I'm just making a point that there have been many, many UNJUST laws in history to your response that no law would ever exist.

To answer the OP, I don't think these people are justified. I understand the first one, but it's not justified. Nor is it right that the pharmaceutical company to have so much greed.

~♥Little Miss - posted on 01/27/2011

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Kelly "Still no one has answered my questions, and I am interested in how you would respond :)
1) If drugs were paid for and obtained by a family to save their kid, and another person came in and stole the drugs to save their own kid because they could not afford the drugs, and the kid the drugs were legally ordered for dies, is that still justified?
2) What if the kid the drugs were originally ordered for doesn't die, but the family is forced to pay for two sets of drugs--the stolen drugs and the replacement--Is it fair that they had to pay double because another family could not pay at all?"

To answer #1....Companies do not make only 1 DOSE of life saving drugs, they are made in batches. It would be re-ordered.
#2. The family that has already paid for the drug would not need to pay for stolen drugs. Even if this did hypothetically happen, don't you think that those drugs and the company are insured? People are not going to have to pay for a drug 2x if the company is broken into and the life saving drug is stole....not happening.

~♥Little Miss - posted on 01/27/2011

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Survival of the fittest....I would do what was necessary to take care of my kids and husband. If it involves breaking some laws...fine...if in return it saves my kids lives, or puts food in there mouths...

Sherri - posted on 01/27/2011

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Nope I would continue to fight LEGALLY but I certainly would not break the law to obtain what I wanted.

Isobel - posted on 01/27/2011

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The op specifically says ALL legal methods were tried. So you would lay down and give up?

Sherri - posted on 01/27/2011

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I guess I disagree I would never steal food or medicine. I would find a way to do it legally.

Isobel - posted on 01/27/2011

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You said that you believe that laws are just...I think that's a short-sighted argument. I put my own moral code above the law...thank goodness generally they match up, but I would feel no guilt for stealing food or medicine for my kids.

Isobel - posted on 01/27/2011

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I don't understand how having money makes you MORALLY more deserving of those drugs.

Isobel - posted on 01/27/2011

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In Florida:

"When having sex, only the missionary position is legal."

[deleted account]

If a law is unjust then that justifies *changing* the law, but it still does not justify *breaking* the law. Everyone's morals are different, so if everyone just went about breaking laws because they thought they were immoral, we would have chaos. That is why we have the judicial system.
As to weather the drug is being withheld for profit being immoral, it is not stated in the original scenario that that is the reason. Perhaps the scientist has invested everything he has, into the drug, and needs to make enough to live by selling the drug at a certain price.


Still no one has answered my questions, and I am interested in how you would respond :)
1) If drugs were paid for and obtained by a family to save their kid, and another person came in and stole the drugs to save their own kid because they could not afford the drugs, and the kid the drugs were legally ordered for dies, is that still justified?
2) What if the kid the drugs were originally ordered for doesn't die, but the family is forced to pay for two sets of drugs--the stolen drugs and the replacement--Is it fair that they had to pay double because another family could not pay at all?

Isobel - posted on 01/27/2011

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yup...it was intended to stop brothels...buuuuuut, perhaps they should've worded it better.

~♥Little Miss - posted on 01/27/2011

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Is that real Laura? That is the weirdest law in America that I have heard...yet.

Isobel - posted on 01/27/2011

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If you lived in Arizona and you had seven daughters, would you put one up for adoption or move out of state?

"No more than six girls may live in any house."

~♥Little Miss - posted on 01/27/2011

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Here is my *twist* on the situation....this more so was my immediate thought than wether or not pursuing an illegal action to save a loved one.

Would it be ETHICAL for the Dr to administer this life saving drug full well knowing they could not afford it, coming to the conclusion that it was stolen?

Isobel - posted on 01/27/2011

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Here's a good one from Alabama.



edited to add the actual law ;P



Men who deflower virgins, regardless of age or marital status, may face up to five years in jail.

Sherri - posted on 01/27/2011

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You can justify it all you want Sara/Jessica I do not agree with breaking the law. Period.

Jessica - posted on 01/27/2011

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Well that is kind of a ludicrous question their is not such law and never will be. However, if it is for stealing, drugs, speeding. murder etc. then yes everyone should pay the consequences of their actions.

^^ Yeah but there have been laws in the past that ARE that ludicrous and unjust, but have been changed because people were willing to challenge them. Someone mentioned segregation laws between white people/African Americans as an example; or like I said how women used to not be allowed to vote... there are tons of other examples I am sure we could all come up with. My point is it seems like of silly to say that a law is not unjust just because it is a law.

Amie- yeah that makes more sense. If I steal a drug for my husband who is dying because I cannot get it any other way and he won't survive any other way- I'd do it in a heartbeat and won't feel guilty for a second, but I realize that it will still be looked at as "stealing" and would expect to pay whatever consequences the judicial system deems necessary for that.

[deleted account]

Okay, I just deleted my post because I felt it was rude.

Let me try again.

Look to history and you will see that there have been numerous laws worth breaking on moral grounds. Two glaring instances...slavery and the Holocaust.

Sherri - posted on 01/27/2011

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Well that is kind of a ludicrous question their is not such law and never will be. However, if it is for stealing, drugs, speeding. murder etc. then yes everyone should pay the consequences of their actions.

Isobel - posted on 01/27/2011

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Thank you Amie,

Sherri...So if the law states that you MUST turn in all people with green eyes to the state prison...you would do it?

Amie - posted on 01/27/2011

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I think I answered the moral aspect of it in my post. I did say I would do it for someone I loved, even though it is wrong by the laws standards.

It is wrong in the way that the law says it is wrong. It does not mean it's wrong in a moral way. I understand and would break the law to help or protect those that I love if I knew it was the right moral path to take.

Make more sense?

Isobel - posted on 01/27/2011

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So if the law states that you MUST turn in all people with green eyes to the state prison...you would do it? Surely it MUST be Ok to break the law when it's an unjust law.

Sherri - posted on 01/27/2011

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"What if your child/spouse/family friend" is a drug addict and commits a robbery to support their habit and you were made aware of it. Do you turn them in?" Most definitely!!!

Nope not ok in either scenario breaking the law is breaking the law. Neither is justifiable than the other.

Jessica - posted on 01/27/2011

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"It's not about morals though Laura. It's about the laws as they are now. It's still breaking the law. "

It is about morals though. Yes, stealing is breaking the law- there's really no debating that. The question is, do you think its ok or not, and why- which gets into morals and ethics.

Shauna - posted on 01/27/2011

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My friend stole food from a grocery store b/c she didnt have food for her kids to eat. Was on a long wait list for assistance, and no food at foodbanks. I dont blame her. She got arrested and went to jail, and family had temporary custody of children.

Isobel - posted on 01/27/2011

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deciding whether or not it's "justifiable" is a moral dilemma though...

"Kohlberg- Heinz dilemma, development of moral reasoning. "

It's kinda like saying it was OK for a Black person to drink from a White water fountain back in the fifties...the law was immoral, and therefore breaking it is justified.

Amie - posted on 01/27/2011

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It's not about morals though Laura. It's about the laws as they are now. It's still breaking the law.

Isobel - posted on 01/27/2011

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I disagree...I think withholding a lifesaving drug from somebody who needs it for profit is the immoral act...which makes breaking the law justified.

If I knew that somebody who I loved was guilty of hurting somebody (financially or physically) I would probably turn them in...no moral justification there.

Amie - posted on 01/27/2011

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In either situation it's not ok. My heart would break for the family in the first scenario, I would understand why he did it. I would probably do it for my child but it's still wrong.

The key difference is that the man is doing it out of love, the drug addict is doing it out of a selfish need (the addiction). One is more likely to be violent (the addict) if he encounters someone than the other is. I bet the husband is also willing to die or go to jail for his wife, while the drug addict is just thinking about his need at that moment.

The two are very different scenarios but both are wrong in their actions in the scenario. I would be very empathetic for the man and his wife. I would probably even help if it was someone I loved, it doesn't make it right though.

Jessica - posted on 01/27/2011

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"Do you know what the crime is here? A person's life is on the line because of profit. Our priorities are fucked. "

ITA!! In the first scenario, I think its ok. A loved one's life is on the line, and no one is getting hurt in the process- just some asshole doctor's pocketbook. I agree- that shows our priorities are wacked.

In the second scenario, I don't think its ok. But not so much because you're ignoring a law being broken- because you're ignoring a real problem/addiction of a loved one. Morally, the right thing to do (imo) would be to interfere with their habit in any way possible and do everything in your power to help them get the help they need.

Here's the way I look at it- I don't see laws as the end-all-be-all of what's important. Laws are temporary, and man-made, and given to flaws. They reflect the value of the time we live in, and those values change. There are laws that existed a hundred years ago that we now think were total crap, and are glad that someone stood up to! Women's right to vote, or work, for instance.

I'm not trying to sound like a total anarchist, and in general I think most laws that are in place are well-intentioned and of course should be followed and enforced. But in certain extreme situations, I'm also not against questioning authority and making changes when they need to be made.

[deleted account]

I can understand breaking the law to save a life (and may even do it in some circumstances), but the lawbreaker would still need to pay the legal consequences for his/her actions.

Tia Melissa - posted on 01/27/2011

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Yes, it is, in instances, legitimate to break the law. Human life - the sanctity and dignity of - trumps the law of the land. Immoral or unethical laws do not have to be obeyed. All others should be followed to the best of each person's ability.

Given both scenarios, I see where the 1st is "more" OK than the second. In the 1st, example, a person's life is at stake and "might" be saved but, at face value, is being prevented by the obstinacy/greed of several people.

I do not see, though, that he has exhausted every legal means available to him to obtain the doses. It mentions nothing about the assistance of the media or congressional representatives. Public opinion is a powerful thing. Does he leave the money he already has and send the rest anonymously over time? Is the drug experimental and possibly more harmful than beneficial thus the Dr/scientist refuses to give it out? Is it untested for the wife's particular form of cancer? Has it shown to cause a permanent vegetative state or further cancer? Is the husband grasping at straws rather than coming to grips with the impending death of his wife and preventing one or both of them from making peace and spending their last days together in unity? There is not enough information to make a truly moral decision.

On the 2nd, yes, I would turn them in, provided my information was concrete; not rumor or 3rd hand. If they have come to the place where they have resorted to robbery to support a dangerous habit, then they have escalated from begging, borrowing, and often stealing from relatives & friends. Sometimes, going to jail is what saves them from dying of an overdose or being harmed by someone who WILL NOT be robbed - OR saves them from harming another and being brought up on more serious charges such as murder. Tough Love. It can be a moment of conversion.

Of course, I'm not addressing the incredible emotional difficulty either of those scenarios would contain. These are not easy decisions to make and must be made by the person/s involved in the situation.

Lindsay - posted on 01/27/2011

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When people are desperate, they will do whatever they need to do to help their situation. And while his intentions were good, I don't think that stealing is justified. It takes a lot of money to develop and research these drugs to make sure they are safe before putting them on the market. When you buy a drug, that's what you're paying for, everything that happened prior to the drug being available. You are not paying for the actual ingredients used to make the drug. The doctor probably could not afford to just give away the drug, even at a discounted rate or at the risk of the man not paying for it later. The doctor's well being could quite possibly be on the line as well.

I'm just not a fan of people breaking the law and then attempting to get out of it because of their intention behind it. Sure, do what you've got to do in desperate times but if you get caught, it's on you. I think (no facts, purely speculation) that if you went into a prison or jail and sat down with individuals to talk, you'd find that a good percentage of them committed crimes and had a "good" intention behind it. I'd bet that most weren't for shits and giggles.

For the other scenario, if I knew that my child/spouse/family friend was a drug addict, I'd do everything within my power to get them treatment.

ME - posted on 01/27/2011

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It depends on the law...This is the exact situation I present to my philosophy students each semester...Most try desperately to come up with legal ways for the patient to get his meds...They don't think questioning authority is correct...However...there have been many times in the history of human civilization when breaking the law led to the alteration of unjust ones...since I believe strongly that health care is a human right, I would encourage the sick individual to steal the drug to save his/her life...perhaps such a case would lead to the changes we deserve in our health care system...Drug addicts who steal should be sent to rehab...their actions are the desperate choices of sick individuals!

[deleted account]

What if the drug was a limited supply and by stealing the drug when he couldn't pay for it, he kept the drug from someone else who could pay for it? Consider these alterations:

There are a lot of cancer drugs that are very difficult to get, in the US anyway, and thus cost a lot of money. If drugs were paid for and obtained by a family to save their kid, and another person came in and stole the drugs to save their own kid because they could not afford the drugs, and the kid the drugs were legally ordered for dies, is that still justified?

What if the kid the drugs were originally ordered for doesn't die, but the family is forced to pay for two sets of drugs--the stolen drugs and the replacement--Is it fair that they had to pay double because another family could not pay at all?

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