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Introduction: Author’s Background
Anne Merewood, Xena Grossman, John Cook, Radha Sadacharan, Marcella Singleton, Karen Peters, and Tina Navidi studied the issue of baby formula distribution by the U.S. hospitals and the ethical concerns related to the phenomenon. The study can be credited as quite legitimate, as the authors have impressive qualifications, including MPH, IBCLC (Merewood), RD (Crossman, Singleton, and Peters), MS (Crossman and Singleton), PhD (Cook), BS (Sadacharanand Navidi), and IBCLC (Singleton and Peters) (Merewood et al., 2010, p. 363).
Article Summary: Formula Distribution
Merewood et al. study the problems of infant formula distribution in American hospitals. According to the authors, the uneven distribution of the infant formula among young mothers is primarily predetermined by the hospital staff’s willingness to promote breastfeeding among the target audience. However, the ethical implications of the above-mentioned decision are quite dubious. Moreover, the lack of infant formula provided to the mothers of young children can be explained by the poor taxonomy principles established in the organization. The study has shown that U.S. hospitals are geared towards terminating the distribution of sample packs to the target audience, which can be viewed as an ethically questionable move.
One may assume that the case in point is the exact representation of a conflict of interests as well. To be more exact, the problem viewed in the case study stemmed from the fact that the interests of the commercial partner and the medical practice of the corresponding healthcare facility turned out to be compatible. As the authors of the study warn, major ethical issues are likely to emerge “when medical practice and commercial interests coincide” (Merewood et al., 2010, p. 363). It would be wrong to deny marketing its essential role in raising awareness concerning new methods of disease treatment and prevention; however, in the specified case, the emphasis on marketing rather than on the actual needs of the target audience created a conflict.
Ethical Theory: Consequentialism
The issue discussed by the authors can be viewed from the tenets of the Consequentialism ethics. According to the official definition thereof, Consequentialism in healthcare presupposes that a specific moral response should be correlated with a corresponding outcome (Miller, 2014). In other words, Consequentialism implies that the outcomes of a specific healthcare intervention are predetermined by the ethical intentions of the doer.
From the tenets of the above-mentioned theory, the issue in question can be considered as obviously ethically flawed. Particularly, one of the parties involved, i.e., the distribution organization (the U.S. hospitals), did not take the wellbeing of the target audience into account when promoting the product. Indeed, as the case study shows, “Most US hospitals distribute formula sample packs to new mothers at discharge, in violation of the WHO Code” (Merewood et al., 2010, p. 364).
It should be born in mind, though, that the commercial interests of the U.S. hospitals are not the only reason and, probably, not the key cause for the infant formula conflict to have occurred. Additionally, the poor nomenclature principles adopted in the specified facilities for labeling the corresponding products can be blamed from the issue in question. As the research shows, the labeling process in the U.S. hospitals could use major improvements: “Confusion may arise through sample pack nomenclature — some ‘discharge bags’ are labeled ‘breastfeeding’” (Merewood et al., 2010, p. 365). Nevertheless, the Consequentialism ethical principles seem to apply to the above-mentioned problem. By misunderstanding the principles of infant formula distribution and viewing the needs of the hospital as the top priority, the corresponding healthcare leaders create the environment that jeopardizes infants.
The ethical concern in question could also be viewed from a different angle. As researches show, increasing breastfeeding rates among young mothers is essential for the wellbeing of infants (Merewood et al., 2010). Therefore, by reconsidering the distribution of infant formula to the mothers of infants, the hospital staff may encourage mothers to feed their children with natural breast milk, thus, increasing health rates among newborn babies. From the perspective of consequentialism, the above-mentioned argument can be considered impeccable. However, there are some dents in the specified argument; particularly, the fact that some mothers may be unable to provide their children with breast milk deserves to be mentioned. As a result, the moral implications of the ethically reasonable choice made by the U.S. hospital staff are still deleterious, as the outcomes of the decision negatively affect thousands of infants.
Conclusion: Addressing the Needs of Infants
Although the reasons for most U.S. hospitals to refuse to provide mothers with infant formula are represented as the attempt at promoting a healthier approach to feeding infants by encouraging breastfeeding, the actual consequences of the policy application are dire. More importantly, the violation of the WHO principles of providing infant formula to mothers can also be viewed as the attempt of the U.S. hospital staff to increase the rates of breastfeeding in a particular area and, therefore, profit from the patients. Ethically flawed and compromising the work of healthcare specialists across the state, the specified practice should be terminated.
Merewood, A., Grossman, X., Cook, J., Sadacharan, R., Singleton, M., Peters, K. & Navidi, T. (2010). US hospitals violate WHO policy on the distribution of formula sample packs: Results of a national survey. Journal of Human Lactation, 36(4), 363–367.
Miller, C. (2014). The Bloomsbury companion to ethics. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing.