COMMENTARY: A Test of Integrity: Does Personal Necessity Trump Moral Principles?

Years ago, my wife Anne was talking to a woman I’ll call Lila about another lady I’ll call Gwen. Gwen had just been laid off and since she had only worked for the company for a short time, she wasn’t eligible to continue the company’s medical insurance. That’s important because she was eight weeks pregnant, and the reason she took the job was to get medical insurance.

Gwen was upset and went to a lawyer. Together, they decided to threaten her employer with a lawsuit claiming the company terminated her because they found out she was pregnant.

Anne asked, “Is that what really happened?”

“Well, no,” Lila answered, “but Gwen really needs the insurance, and she hopes the threat will force the company to make a settlement.”

“But that’s dishonest!” Anne said. Shocked by Anne’s judgmentalness, Lila stressed again how hard it would be for Gwen if she had no insurance because she had no husband. She was artificially inseminated. Gwen thought of asking the company if she could keep her insurance by paying the premiums, but her lawyer said it would weaken her case.

Anne was incredulous. “Weaken what case? Her case is a lie! I know she’s in a tough situation, but how can Gwen possibly justify making a false claim?”

Lila concluded: “Gwen only did what she had to do.”

It’s one thing to feel compassion for Gwen. It’s quite another to justify fraud simply because she thought it was necessary. There’s a certain seductive force to necessity claims, but neither real nor perceived necessity gives anyone a moral free pass. Personal needs and wants just don’t trump moral principles. Remember, character is doing the right thing even when it costs more than you want to pay.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 17

  1. Gwen’s 1st mistake was getting herself knocked-up without a plan.
    Gwen seems very selfish. Having a.child on her own.and.trying to make her.expenses someone else’s problem.

  2. This story allows the judgmental approach to appear logical by shading the story to support this attitude. How about a story in which the system is corrupt and stacked against the protagonist, who can only do what is best for her child by “cheating”? When the game is rigged against you and the health of your child is on the line, things aren’t as morally clear as you make these decisions out to be. You appear to be coming from an upper class view of life in an orderly society in which the “good people” always are able to do the right thing (albeit sometimes with considerable discomfort) without endangering their children’s lives. Life appears simple when you can write the story your way. However, I believe life can be more morally complex than your privileged experience (judging by this tale) has led you to believe.

    1. Hi, it is imperative to note that truth pays on the long run always. Do you consider the possibility of Gwen getting help to offset her medicl bills by people or persons she may not know now. We all need to learn that integrity of purpose is very important even from the outset.

  3. Gwen made a CHOICE to become pregnant. The responsibility that comes along with that choice is to have in place the resources to care for herself and child. Why should this employer be ultimately responsible for health insurance coverage for a choice SHE made? For her to “work the system” is both dishonest and unfair to the company and other employees who legitimately earn the benefit of insurance. I see this as a significant and underlying problem in our country – lack of responsibility and accountability for the choices one makes… then having an expectation that someone else should give them what they need (or want).

    1. The significant and underlying problem I see in our country is a refusal to ensure that everyone can reasonably afford health care coverage.
      Extreme rightists have made a CHOICE to prioritize anti-Obamacare litigation over fair and compassionate treatment of workers and families. They’d prefer we all pay for exorbitant emergency care for the uninsured rather than put in place mechanisms so that people like Gwen won’t be cornered in a desperate situation by an employer’s whims.

      1. Right on, Liz. Those who promulgate fear of the Affordable Care Act (I call them moneyhoarders) are setting just as bad an example of poor ethics as “Gwen” was setting for her unborn child.

      2. Liz,
        It appears that Gwen had the resources to pay for insurance, as she contemplated asking her employer if she could continue paying her premiums. She decided to pursue a different solution. Your answer panders to the fearmongerers. Temporary insurance is available through COBRA plans to cover people in these particular instances. People can transfer from COBRA to a marketplace insurance plan as well. Again, Gwen chose the dishonest route.

  4. The beauty of Character Counts is that it gives us excellent information about good and bad choices made by people, which we can then apply in the context of our own lives, to shape our own character. And we do this because we know we are imperfect and have character flaws.

    I fear many who would read this story and be asked to provide commentary would be too quick to judge Gwen’s character based on this one very poor and wrong choice.

    Simply put, Gwen made a bad choice and this should serve as a reminder that dishonesty comes in many forms. The real question one should ask after reading this story should be, “what forms of dishonesty exist in my life?”

  5. Actions are a result of our thinking and the character or lack thereof, that we have as adults. That is why I appreciate the work of the Josephson Institute in schools, at the early stages of character formation so that as adults, we don’t end up in a situation like Gwen. When we live based on the thinking of “I deserve-I want-You have to give this to me,” It’s more than just character. It’s also the fact that a life based on lies is a life of misery, of creating enemies and closing doors. In this particular case, what a pity that this woman failed to consider there were other possibilities that could could not only take care of her immediate situation, but bring her many opportunities of joy! Poor child, a liar for a mom!

  6. I agree with Liz that the US should have affordable health care for everyone. However given the existing situation when Gwen was considering her decision to be artificially inseminated, the current health situation should have entered into that decision (along with how to feed, clothe and educate her unborn child). The procedure of artificial insemination is rather lengthy, expensive and may need to be repeated more than once, so there is plenty of time for planning. Therefore, I agree with Tooly.

  7. I am 100% in agreement with Michael on this one. This lady was fraudulently attempting to gain a financial advantage by lying. How can that ever be right.
    She CHOSE to become pregnant – very conciously deciding to become a single parent without the means to support herself. There are many public assistance programs that she could have taken advantage, legally, of.

    This kind of deception is one of the reasons that benefits are so costly. SOMEONE has to pay.

  8. I am surprised by how many “condemn” Gwen for making the CHOICE to become pregnant without a plan in place. We don’t know her story, so it is not fair for us to judge (she had a job and medical insurance at the time she conceived – she did not CHOOSE to be laid off). The fact of the matter is life is hard! The issue here is that the attorney is leading Gwen down a path of dishonesty, and in her situation it seems to be an appealing option. But what happens if she does sue the company and they have documentation to show there was no discrimination in their actions – she was laid off legitimately. Gwen is still in a position where she has no insurance or income but now has the burden of deceit and dishonesty to contend with. And a lawyer’s bill. And she has lost this company as a reference in future employment. She needs to find a better option to pursue.

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