An Examination of an Ethical Decision-Making Model

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Merck and Vioxx: An Examination
of an Ethical Decision-Making Model Erin Cavusgil
ABSTRACT. Marketing researchers have proposed
various conceptual models of ethical decision-making to
better clarify the steps in the decision-making process.
However, lacking in the literature is comprehensive
empirical validation of these models. This manuscript
examines the ethical decision-making model proposed
by Ferrell et al. [1989, Journal of Macromarketing 56(Fall), 55–64] in the context of a real-world marketing situation. This model is a comprehensive synthesis of previously
developed models in the literature. The events surrounding
the withdrawal from the market of the pain
reliever Vioxx, manufactured by Merck & Co., are
detailed. The analysis provides insights into the decisionmaking process faced by Merck executives and sheds light
onto the real-world applicability of the conceptual model.
Furthermore, this study demonstrates how potential
modifications to existing models can be developed by
their examination in the context of real world events. It is hoped that this analysis, along with future examinations,
aids marketing researchers in developing a better understanding of the ethical decision-making process in a
business context.
KEY WORDS: Merck, Vioxx, ethical marketing decision-
making, models of ethical marketing
Ethical decision-making in an organizational context
is important to marketing scholars and practitioners
alike. A number of corporate examples of unethical
behavior have been attempted in recent years. From
the academic perspective, several ethical decisionmaking
models have been put forth (Ferrell et al.,
1989, Fritzsche, 1991, Hunt and Vitell, 1986, Jones,
1991, Malhotra and Miller, 1998) and to some
extent, empirical tests of ethical decision-making
have been conducted. Two recent reviews, that of
Loe et al. (2000) and OFallon and Butterfield
(2005), both summarize the empirical ethical decision-
making literature. The various models represent
frameworks for understanding the factors that affect
an individual managers ethical decision-making
within the organization.
While these models can guide ones behavior in a
theoretical situation, their overall applicability in realworld situations has not yet been demonstrated. In
fact, researchers have touted the need for additional
studies using industry samples to validate such models
(Loe et al., 2000). The purpose of this paper is to
address this concern. More specifically, this research
attempts to apply a recent real-world ethical situation
to an integrated ethical decision-making model. In
doing so, I examine the following questions: (1)
based on what is known about the ethical dilemma,
how closely does this model adequately represent the
decision-making process? and (2) can this model be
modified or extended to better represent the ethical
decision-making process? While it is not possible to
exhaustively test a conceptualization by examining a
single set of circumstances, by investigating a realworld
situation, we can further our knowledge
regarding the applicability of a particular conceptual
model. Moreover, by scrutinizing a real-world ethical
situation, we can demonstrate how potential
modifications to an existing model may be developed.
By combining a number of such studies, our
understanding of the ethical decision-making process
within a business context can be advanced.
Erin Cavusgil is a doctoral student at Michigan State University. She holds a BS in Chemical Engineering from the University
of Michigan and an MS in Biomedical Engineering from the
University of Minnesota. She spent 3 1/2 years working in
the pharmaceutical industry as a chemical engineer. Her main area of research is new product development.
Journal of Business Ethics (2007) 76:451–461  Springer 2007 DOI 10.1007/s10551-006-9302-3
The ethical situation investigated here surrounds
the withdrawal in...
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