Business, Profit and Ethics
Pharmaceutical companies and healthcare companies in general continually address business ethics issues, such as, for example, in relation to whether it is moral to conduct experiments on animals to discover life-saving medicinal drugs. Sometimes, this can involve the public or private spending of hundreds of millions of US dollars with only a small chance of finding an effective and cheap drug, e.g., against AIDS.
A Blog Article by Dimitrios Koumparoulis.
One of the larger pharmaceutical companies, Merck, has found itself in the face of a similar dilemma.1 Black flies, a large family of fly species, can carry diseases, such as via parasitic miniature worms, and transmit these to humans. At the moment, humanity hoped that these flies had already been eliminated, due to the use of insecticides. However, the fly appeared again recently in an improved version, with higher resistance to insecticides.
Almost 100 million people were at risk from the black fly and more than 15 million were affected by the microfilaria in recent years. This worm can gestate under the human skin, while creating a knotted tissue of 1-3 cm in diameter. It is not just the itch to which the worm can lead. It also poses a danger to health and can cause blindness. Here it must be added that the black fly and its human victims tend to be localized in exceptionally tropical climate areas of Asia and South America, near rivers and far away from drug delivery centers.
A Merck researcher discovered that a herbal medicine, Ivermectin, might be used in humans to fend against these health risks. But experiments to develop its clinically approved form would cost tens of millions of dollars. Consequently, Merck studied possible financial solutions for the cost-effective testing, production and distribution of the drug, while approaching the governments of the affected countries, the United States and the World Health Organization. Eventually, Merck took over the costs of producing this drug. It also committed to distributing the medicine free of charge. In this connection, the CEO of Merck, Dr. Roy Vagelos, had stated that it was clear that the company had a moral responsibility to proceed with the development and production of this pharmaceutical drug.
This case of corporate social responsibility also raises the following business ethics questions.
• Should the company’s shareholders and stakeholders have a say about whether potential corporate profits are to be diverted for humanitarian purposes?
• How ethical imperatives can be balanced with business objectives, given that drug developers expend funds for medical research, drug improvements or human resources?
• Is it practicably possible for businesses to incorporate corporate social responsibility into the frameworks of their corporate culture and codes of conduct?
Written by Dimitrios Koumparoulis
Edited by Pablo Markin
Featured Image Credits: Corporate Social Responsibility, Bangalore, India, February 14, 2017 | © Courtesy of Trinity Care Foundation/Flickr.
- Velasquez, Manuel G. Business Ethics: Concepts and Cases, Fourth Edition. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 1998, pp. 2-7. [↩]