Lecture – Heinz Dilemma: His money or her life?

ketchup, red, ketchup tomato sauce

Living by ethical priniciples in an imperfect world tests a person’s character.
How do we resolve tensions when moral principles conflict?
Lawrence Kohlberg presented the following dilemma:

1.In Europe, a woman was near death from a specialkind 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 it cost him to make. He paid $400 for the radium and charged $4000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money and to try every legal means, but he could only get together about $2000, which is half of what it cost. He 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, having tried every legal means, Heinze gets desperate and considers breaking into the man’s store to steal thedrug for his wife. Should Heinz steal the drug?!

2.In order to save his life during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, a man, under pressure from the SS, revealed the location of his brother’s hidden wealth. Should he have doneso? Both brothers survived the war and live in Israel. Must the man now compensate his brother for the losses he caused? May a person steal medication or money or food in order to save his life?

May a person steal medication or money or food in order to save his life?
Are moral dictates inviolate ? if not when can they be breached?
3. Regina v. Dudley & Stephens (1884) 14 QBD 273 DC, where four shipwrecked sailors were cast adrift in a small boat without provisions. To save themselves, the three strongest decided to eat the fourth, the 17 year-old cabin boy. The court ruled that cannibalising the boy was not urgently necessary. Even though the cabin boy would almost certainly have died of natural causes, the sailors killed the boy intentionally and were guilty of murder. There was some degree of necessity arising from the threat of starvation but, at any moment, a ship could have sailed over the horizon to save them as, indeed, the three were rescued. Since they could never be sure that the killing was actually necessary from one minute to the next, the defence was denied. Cannibalism itself is not an offence so long as the death occurs naturally.
4. Philosopher Lord Francis Bacon took this prinicple to its extreme, stating
“If a man steals viands {food] to satisfy his present hunger, there is no felony or larceny.”
5. Baba Kamma 60b
King David consulted the Sanhedrin as to whetherhis army was permitted to destroy private property that the Philistines were using as camouflage in order to attack it.
The answer they dispatched to him was: [Generallyspeaking] it is forbidden to rescue oneself through the destruction of another’s property; you, however, are King, and a king may break [through fields belonging to private persons] to make a way [for his army], and
nobody is entitled to prevent him [from doing so].

  1. Bava Kama 79b
    Reb Yehudah and Reb Yosi were walking together when a ravenous hunger seized Reb Yehudah. He seized a shepherd and devoured his bread. Reb Yosi said to him “ You have robbed the shepherd.
  2. Raavad Hilchot Chivel Umazik 8:4
    The Rambam said that if someone coerces you to pass him someone else’s property under the threat you must do so to save your life and you must pay back the loss. Nothing stands in the way of saving life and therefore once one is obligated to save life one would be exempt from repayment.
  3. Sanhedrin 74a
    For Rava said: If a man was pursuing after his fellow(to slay him) and broke some utensils, whether of the pursued or of some other person,he (the pursuer) is free from liability. Why so? He is liable to be killed
    (kim Lei) receives more severe of punishments
    If the pursued broke utensils, if they belonged to the pursuer,he is not liable for them, if to someone else he is liable. If they belonged to the pursuer he is not liable because (the pursuer’s) property is not more precious than (the pursuer’s life( which the pursued is allowed to take in self defense). If they belonged to someone else he is liable because he saved himself at his neighbours expense

So third approach may take anothers property to save life but must compensate the owner.
The Talmud then goes on to discuss the situation of the good Samaritan

But if one pursuer (a third party) was pursuing a pursuer to save the victims life and broke some utensils whether of the pursuer or the pursued or any other person he is not liable for them.

  1. Yad Ramah

Saving oneself with another’s property is permissible at the time since he doesn’t have access to his own funds to save life since has obligation to save life and no alternative he is permitted to use the others money to save life
But after successful rescue he will have access to his personal resources and no longer under duress and thus the temporary exemption from paying disappears

Published by Rabbi Piny Hackenbroch

Rabbi Piny Hackenbroch is currently the Senior Rabbi in Woodside Park Synagogue – a modern orthodox thriving community of some 1,400 members. His innate love for people and his empowering brand of leadership make him a well-loved figure in Woodside Park & London.

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