What Does Ethical Mean?
When you hear or read a news story in the next few weeks, you will be able to apply different points of view to what you see, perhaps perspectives that you have not considered before. How do you feel about broadening your perspective?
In this session, you’ll work through a case study that comes from actual events and consider different perspectives.
River blindness has long been a problem in many African countries, as well as parts of Central and South America. It is an insect-borne disease that causes blindness and severe itching. (Some people have reportedly committed suicide because the itching is so terrible.) The disease is so prevalent that, according to the World Health Organization, it is the world’s second leading infectious cause of blindness. In 1979, a scientist for Merck Pharmaceuticals discovered that one of the company’s best-selling veterinary drugs, Ivermectin, might cure this terrible illness that had blinded millions.
However, there were several problems with this discovery.
Developing a drug suitable for humans would take years and millions of dollars.
The drug might be sold into the black market and reduce the profits of the veterinary drug, harming Merck’s financial viability.
Developing a way to get the drug to the afflicted areas and people would be costly and difficult, as there were no systems in place.
Despite the challenges, Merck went ahead and developed a human version of Ivermectin, called Mectizan, at their own cost. They also worked with the WHO, the World Bank, UNICEF, and other governmental agencies to get the treatment to those in need and to ensure it did not appear on the black market. To date, Merck has treated 530 million people with Mectizan for river blindness. They have also given Mectizan to millions to prevent another prevalent disease, elephantiasis.
Merck has made no direct profit from this 20-year effort, yet has mandated that they will continue to donate their product. The reason? Merck management felt (and still feels) that they have a moral obligation to help people. (Wisely, they don’t deny that the positive publicity might help their business.)