Ethical Issues Raised by GlaxoSmithKline’s Decisions
The main ethical issues that the decision by GlaxoSmithKline to promote and market drugs unapproved for some uses include the following. First, the decision exposed the consumers of the drugs to unknown risks. The use of any drug by humans requires prior tests to verify the efficacy and safety of the drug. Secondly, the action took advantage of people who deserved empathy. The company made profits from patients without due regard to the long-term well being of the patients.
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The question of whether such practices are morally permissible or unethical depends on the specific conditions surrounding the practice. For instance, if the drugs provided relief for patients who would otherwise suffer pain because of their ailments, then the practices would be morally defensible.
This also depends on whether there were approved alternatives to the drugs. If there were proper alternatives within reach of the patient and the only factor that guided their buying decision was the marketing efforts of GlaxoSmithKline, then the practices are not morally defensible.
Ethical Acceptability of GlaxoSmithKline’s Decision to Retain Data on Diabetes Drugs
There are requirements in law that a drug manufacturing company should release research data to support the safety of the drugs it seeks to sell (BBC). Failure to provide the data and making unverified claims about the safety of the drugs is illegal. The first ethical question that arises is whether it is acceptable for a company dealing with drugs to flout laws.
The reason why drug laws exist is to protect the lives of people who take drugs. This makes obeying the law a moral imperative. Therefore, the failure of the company to release the data for whatever reason brings to question the commitment of the company to the safety of the people who consume their drugs. In this sense, it is not morally acceptable to refuse to release data that regulators can use to verify the safety of drugs. It can lead to harm.
Moral Difference between Hiding Information and Making Active False Claims
The moral difference between failure to provide information and making false claims depends on the reasons for failing to provide the information (Rogers and Braunack-Mayer 14). If the failure is for a good reason such as the need to protect a business secret, or because of internal doubts regarding the accuracy of the available information, then there is a moral difference.
This is only true if no subsequent action takes place. However, if the information hidden clearly shows potential for harm, then there is no moral difference between hiding the information, and making false claims. In both cases, the consumer faces harm.
Moral Obligation of Large Food and Beverage Companies
Large food and beverage companies have a moral obligation to consider the consequences that their products have on people. The documentary clearly links obesity to the increasing availability of junk food and soft drinks (Altman and Leitch). The case of Mexico is the most telling, where Coca-cola drinks formed part of the school feeding programs (Altman and Leitch).
There was evidence of collusion between school heads and the soft drink marketers to sell only one brand of soft drinks in the schools. India and China have an increasing number of obese people because of the influx of junk food and fizzy drinks in the last fifteen years (Altman and Leitch). The documentary points out correctly that the food companies are not social service organizations.
Rather, they are in business. The more people eat, the better their business performs. Most food and soft drink manufacturers are reporting increasing profits from the developing world. There is a strong moral imperative for them to step back, and reexamine their businesses models. The harm that their products are causing to humanity is not morally acceptable (Wolf 48).
Moral Issues Relating To Food and Beverage Marketing Techniques
The marketing techniques are all morally problematic because the consistent consumption of these products leads to obesity. Obesity is the precursor of diabetes and heart disease. Morally speaking, the companies take advantage of unsuspecting people. For instance, the companies sell the same junk food as a healthy source of nutrition because they have fortified the junk food with micronutrients (Altman and Leitch).
While this improves the overall nutritional value of the junk food, the consumers wrongly believe that the junk food can replace the natural sources of the same nutrients. The second moral problem with this issue is selling the junk food to poorly informed people or to defenseless children. It is tantamount to making profits without regard to the damage the food inflicts on people in the long term.
Comparison of Responses in the Two Cases
The moral standards applied to the pharmaceutical companies were similar to the standards applied to the food and beverage companies with one important exception. In the case of GlaxoSmithKline, there was some leeway given because of the assumption that drugs are a vital component of healthcare.
There are situations where even if GlaxoSmithKline broke the law, its actions could be morally defensible. The food and beverage companies cannot enjoy this exemption because their products are not fundamental to the well being of humanity. No universal harm will materialize if these companies close down.
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Altman, Vivien and Marianne Leitch. “Globesity – Fat’s New Frontier.” 24 July 2012. ABC News: Foreign Correspondent. Web. <https://www.abc.net.au/foreign/globesity-sizzler/4144562>.
BBC. “GlaxoSmithKline to Pay $3bn in US Drug Fraud Scandal.” 2 July 2012. BBC News: US and Canada. Web. <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-18673220>.
Rogers, Wendy A and Annette J Braunack-Mayer. Practical Ethics for General Practice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Print.
Wolf, Martin. “The Morality of the Market.” Foreign Policy (2003): 47-50. Print