Merck and Co., River Blindness
Ethical Case Analysis
Lennard de Jong
This paper was prepared for Business Ethics, Ethical Case Analysis, taught by Dr. Moser.
Introduction and Situational Analysis
The ethical dilemma in Merck and River Blindness is whether to pursue research that may or may result in profit, or to choose the safe option and go for profit rather than researching the drug. The drug could possibly lead to curing the deadly and detrimental disease known as River Blindness. The drug would kill the parasites that cause the disease. The qualm to this is that, the consumers of the drug could not pay for the medication. This would result in no profit. This is the flip side of the “orphan” drug dilemma (Nelson, & Trevino, 2011). Merck and Co.’s philosophy was, “We try never to forget that medicine is for people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered that, the larger they have been.” (Nelson, & Trevino, 2011). This is the core of their value system. Going off this core value, Merck and Co. should be more inclined to create the drug despite the seeming lack of profit. Aspects that had led to the quandary are the lack of profit and the pressure of the ethical qualm of creating a helpful drug. “Onchocerciasis is a parasitic disease caused by the filarial worm Onchocerca volvulus. It is transmitted through the bites of infected blackflies of Simulium species, which carry immature larval forms of the parasite from human to human. In the human body, the larvae form nodules in the subcutaneous tissue, where they mature to adult worms. After mating, the female adult worm can release up to 1000 microfilariae a day. These move through the body, and when they die they cause a variety of conditions, including blindness, skin rashes, lesions, intense itching and skin depigmentation” ("Onchocerciasis,"). Onchocerciasis is commonly referred to as River Blindness. “The only measure being taken to
combat River Blindness was the spraying of infected rivers with insecticides in the hope of killing the flies. However, even this wasn’t effective since the flies had built up immunity to the chemicals.” (Nelson, & Trevino, 2011). Research can be a very costly and lengthy endeavor, costing around $200 million and taking up to 12 years to bring to market.
The key stakeholders are the investors, the scientists, the consumers, and the company in general. The investors are impacted by this quandary in how the company might not recuperate the money invested and the investors might never see a profit. The company has a responsibility to ensure that the company stays profitable and that the investors see a return on their investors. The scientists are involved by the fact that they are the employees researching the drug and are therefore most involved in this. The company also has an obligation to the scientists to provide the resources needed to continue their research. The consumers are affected by this situation in that, if the drug is researched, then they can be cured from, or even avoid getting, the disease. The company is impacted in a way similar to the investors. The company might not ever recover the investment due to not making a profit.
Analysis Based on Ethical Theories
The ethical dilemma involved in the Merck and River Blindness case, in the view of society, investing would be the acceptable option. The culture of today would deem not investing as unethical and morally wrong even though both choices are technically ethical. It is legal in either decision, to invest or not to invest in the research. There is no given law saying that Merck and Co. has to invest their money in finding the cure for onchocerciasis. If the company invests, their public image would improve in leaps and bounds for making such a selfless...
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