The ethical dilemma that we face when dealing with the case of Martin is really appealing. One the one side, his wife is dying and he is ready to do anything to save her or at least to give her a chance, and it is nonsense to condemn him for it. One the other side, a pharmacist wants to gain some profit from his invention even despite the death of some people who cannot afford his medication. Pharmacist’s behavior is obviously unethical but that does not mean that Martin’s behavior is right. A crime is not a way-out of the situation. Martin should not have stolen the medication. It was an unethical decision that could lead only to negative consequences.
The core of the issue may be defined like human life vs. money. From the ethical point of view, human life is much more important without any doubt. The pharmacist, probably, knew nothing about Kant’s categorical imperative stating that any human being should always be treated as an end and not as a means to an end, and he viewed people as a means for gaining profit. Making money on somebody’s troubles has nothing to do with morals. Thus, pharmacist’s behavior is clearly unethical though practical and pragmatic. It is interesting how many things that prove to be practical and profitable are in fact unethical. Probably, it is one of the major unethical problems of all times: how to combine morals with pragmatism. But let’s return to Martin. Was his attempt to restore justice a good one? I don’t think so. Breaking another law – “don’t steal” – is not a solution and can hardly bring more justice to this world.
Maybe, the issue will become clearer if we consider who the interested parties are and what their positions are. Martin, the husband of the sick woman, is definitely the most interested party. If his wife dies, he will suffer. Not she, she will be dead and therefore unable to feel pain. So, he did what he did primarily for himself. I don’t know who noticed that first but I agree with the point that there is much egoism in our sorrows about somebody’s death.
Martin’s wife is an interested party, too. She has at least a little chance to stay alive with this medication. However, we don’t know the degree of her concern since we don’t know if she still has a hope and some interest in life. People with such diagnosis often suffer from depression and do not want to live. Besides, the medication did not guarantee a complete recovery.
Next, the pharmacist. He is an interested party – he is interested in profit. The wish to convert his intelligence into money is completely understandable but everything should have some limits. Maybe, I’m an old-timer but I believe that it’s subhuman to override others’ happiness in pursuit of your own.
So, the most interested party is Martin. But he should have weighed the consequences before committing the crime, and then he would foresee too many complications that make his act meaningless. He would most likely be caught by police and would have to bear responsibility for his deeds. If he is arrested, he will not be able to help his wife and offer her at least moral support let alone any medications that will, most probably, be returned to the pharmacist by the law bodies. So, no use for his wife is expected. Moreover, the news that her husband has committed a crime may upset her and worsen the situation. That is what concerns the practical side of the issue. Alas! Practicability is the main criterion again.
In sum, I cannot condemn Martin for stealing the medications but I cannot approve his decision either. I don’t think I would do the same though we never know that for sure until we get into the same situation and have the opportunity to examine our principles in fight with real life. But there should always be some other choices. For example, journalists could have been involved, and under the pressure of public opinion the pharmacist could yield. Bank loan could be taken. At last, the Federal Trade Commission could show interest in the principles of price formation for this medication though I’m not completely sure that it falls within its area of responsibility. Anyway, I do not believe that the return of evil for evil can change something to better in this world.