Belle Gibson, fake wellness blogger, fined $410,000 over false cancer claims – Describe how Kohlberg’s theory of moral development can be applied to this case

Case 2: Belle Gibson

Adapted from “Belle Gibson, fake wellness blogger, fined $410,000 over false cancer claims”, ABC News, September 28, 2017 (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-28/disgraced-wellness-blogger-belle-gibson-fined/8995500)

 

Fake wellness blogger Belle Gibson has been ordered to pay a fine of $410,000 after being found guilty of misleading and deceptive conduct earlier this year. The Federal Court in Melbourne found she misled her readers when she claimed her brain cancer was cured through alternative therapies and nutrition. It was later revealed she never had the disease.

Ms Gibson made $420,000 after building a social media empire and releasing The Whole Pantry cookbook and app, based on the claims. Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) launched an investigation, and in June 2016 brought a civil case against Ms Gibson and her company Inkerman Road Nominees, which has been shut down. The court heard Ms Gibson made false claims about donating a large portion of her profits to charities. Ms Gibson has been fined for five separate contraventions of the Australian Consumer Law Act.

The fine includes:

  • $90,000 for failing to donate proceeds from the sale of The Whole Pantry app, as publicly advertised
  • $50,000 for failing to donate proceeds from the launch of The Whole Pantry app
  • $30,000 for failing to donate proceeds from a 2014 Mother’s Day event
  • $90,000 for failing to donate other company profits
  • $150,000 for failing to donate 100 per cent of one week’s app sales to the family of Joshua Schwarz, a boy who had an inoperable brain tumour

Justice Mortimer described the failure to donate to the Schwarz family as the “most serious” contravention of the law, stating that “Ms Gibson expressly compared the terrible circumstances of young Joshua to her own, asserting she had the same kind of tumour as he did; a statement which was completely false”.

Justice Mortimer said that, despite significant publicity surrounding Ms Gibson’s charitable pledges, she made only three donations totalling $10,800. She said that if Ms Gibson managed to pay the fine, it would be good to see the money donated to those who had been falsely promised donations.

She refused CAV’s request for the court to order Ms Gibson to pay for full-page apology advertisements in newspapers, saying most of Ms Gibson’s contravening conduct occurred on social media. She said CAV could have instead asked the court to order Ms Gibson to undertake community service caring for people who really do have cancer, but it did not. “It [would have been] more likely to have brought home to Ms Gibson the impact of her conduct, and its offensiveness to members of the Australian community who really are struggling with cancer and its effects,” Justice Mortimer wrote.

The judge was critical of Ms Gibson’s absence from the proceedings, saying she had “elected not to take any responsibility for her conduct … She has chosen not to explain her conduct. She has chosen not to apologise for it,” Justice Mortimer said. “It appears she has put her own interests before those of anyone else … If there is one theme or pattern which emerges through her conduct, it is her relentless obsession with herself and what best serves her interests.”

 

Justice Mortimer noted that she was not asked to make any findings about the “efficacy or otherwise of the treatments publicised by Ms Gibson, including her so-called dietary advice”. But Cancer Council Victoria said the fine sent a strong message to those who preyed on vulnerable people by making misleading claims about cancer treatment.

Victorian Minister for Consumer Affairs Marlene Kairouz said Ms Gibson deserved the harsh penalty. “I think she carefully planned for this,” Ms Kairouz said. “She knew exactly what she was doing and thankfully there aren’t many people out there like Belle Gibson.”

 

  • Describe how virtue ethics can be applied to this case. (As the report does not include any information about developing virtues/excellence, you can ignore that aspect.)

 (9 marks)

 

  • Describe how Kohlberg’s theory of moral development can be applied to this case
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