J Bus Ethics (2014) 121:315–328
Roche’s Clinical Trials with Organs from Prisoners: Does Profit Trump Morals?
Received: 17 August 2012 / Accepted: 5 April 2013 / Published online: 17 April 2013 Ó Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013
Abstract This case study discusses the economic, legal,
and ethical considerations for conducting clinical trials in a controversial context. In 2010, pharmaceutical giant Roche
received a shame award by the Swiss non-governmental
organization Berne Declaration and Greenpeace for conducting clinical trials with organs taken from executed prisoners in China. The company respected local regulations and industry ethical standards. However, medical associations condemned organs from executed prisoners on
moral grounds. Human rights organizations demanded that
Roche ended its clinical trials in China immediately. Students are expected to review the economic and ethical issues regarding the outsourcing of clinical trials to controversial human rights contexts, and discuss how to make business decisions when there are conflicts between making profit and ethical considerations. Was Roche complicit in the human rights violations that were related to its
clinical trials? Future patients might benefit from these
clinical trials. Do profit and the greater good, in general, trump morals?
Keywords Human rights Á Roche Á China Á Clinical
trials Á Organ transplantation
In 2010, Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche received the
Public Eye Award. Unfortunately, receiving this shame
award was nothing to be proud of: The Public Eye Award
J. Schrempf-Stirling (&)
Robins School of Business, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA 23173, USA
was given to corporations for their irresponsible behavior
that had negative social, ethical, and/or environmental side effects on stakeholders such as workers, local communities,
consumers, the environment, or society at large. Previously
awarded corporate actions included exploitative working
conditions, environmental disasters, human rights violations, or corporate greed. The Swiss non-governmental organization (NGO), Berne Declaration and Greenpeace
justified Roche’s nomination for the 2010 Public Eye
Award as follows:
China proudly proclaims that roughly 10,000 organ
transplants take place annually in its clinics. However
because of Chinese culture, there are few voluntary
organ donations from the population. Where do all
the transplanted organs come from? At the end of
2008, the Chinese vice health minister admitted in a
medical journal that more than 90 percent of all
transplanted organs come from executed prisoners.
The World Medical Association and other international organizations unanimously oppose the transplantation of prisoner organs on ethical grounds. Even when a prisoner supposedly consents to an
organ donation, such consent while imprisoned cannot be considered of one’s own free will. The drug CellCept, from the Roche pharmaceutical firm, prevents the rejection of transplanted organs. Roche markets the drug in China despite the country’s
unethical transplantation practices. The company has
even been producing CellCept in China for several
years. Furthermore, Roche is currently studying the
drug’s effects in two studies with some 300 transplanted organs in Chinese clinics. Roche claims to have no information regarding the origins of the
transplanted organs. The firm must therefore
immediately halt these studies since it cannot ensure
that none of the organs come from prisoners (The
Public Eye Awards 2010).
Despite an invitation, none of Roche’s representatives
attended the award ceremony. Roche, however, anticipated
information requests from its stakeholders (e.g., shareholders, employees, and patients). The key question was how to respond to this negative publicity.
It was true...
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