When people think of ethics in business, they tend to think of financial ethics or human resources ethics. The problem is, ethical dilemmas exist everywhere in the business world. Business research is no exception to ethical dilemmas. “The goal of ethics in research is to ensure that no one is harmed or suffers adverse consequences from research activities” (Cooper & Schindler, 2011, p. 32). An example of unethical behavior in business research is in the health care industry. GlaxoSmithKline LLC was forced to pay $3 billion for their unlawful promotion of prescription drugs.
The medical industry conducts research to formulate new prescription drugs and find new methods of curing diseases and ailments. The ethical dilemma in the medical industry’s research results from the restriction of research information for monetary gains. According to Smith (2006) “The fact that publishers make money by restricting access to information is unfortunate for the world economy—because trade in information and ideas is quite different from trade in physical objects” (p. 453). Restricting research information is not only profitable in publishing of medical journals, but also in the misrepresentation of prescription drugs.
In July 2012, British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline agreed to pay $3 billion and plead guilty to criminal charges for its unlawful marketing of Paxil and Wellbutrin (“NPR”, 2012). The ethical dilemma began with the company promoting Paxil for the safe and effective treatment of depression in children, but the Food and Drug Administration had proven this to be untrue. According to “NPR” (2012), “In 2003, the FDA warned against the use of Paxil in teenagers because of a heightened risk of suicide” (Glaxo to Plead Guilty to 3 Charges in Sweeping Health Settlement). GlaxoSmithKline also promoted Welbutrin to treat ADHD and obesity. At that time the FDA had cleared the drug to only treat major depression (“NPR”, 2012). In addition to the misrepresentation of Paxil and Welbutrin, GlaxoSmithKline also failed to provide the FDA with research information regarding the safety issues with the diabetes pill Avandia. The research that GlaxoSmithKline failed to submit showed that Avandia may cause serious heart problems (“NPR”, 2012).
Although no final numbers of how many individuals were affected by the misrepresentation of these prescription drugs have been released, some parents believe that their children would still be alive if they had not taken Paxil. According to “Mail Online” (2012), “Jean Bambrough, 51, whose son Jamie Hoole had been taking the tablets for two months, said: ‘I believe he would still be here if he hadn’t been prescribed those drugs’” (GlaxoSmithKline to pay $3 billion fine after pleading guilty to healthcare fraud-the biggest in U.S. history). Currently the State of California has organized a class action lawsuit to fight for monetary compensation to those individuals prescribed Paxil.
GlaxoSmithKline has changed many of its policies in addition to paying fines of $3 billion. One policy that changed is the rewards GlaxoSmithKline gave to sales representatives for the number of drug prescriptions sold (“Mail Online”, 2012). Some feel that the only way to make a difference in the ethical behavior of the medical industry is to hold CEO’s and executives responsible in cases like this. Unfortunately, executives were held responsible in only a few cases involving a major pharmaceutical company. According to “Natural News” (2012),“But rather than pursue any of the individuals responsible for purveying such crimes, the federal government instead agreed to have GSK simply fork over $1 billion in criminal fines and $2 billion in civil fines” (GlaxoSmithKline pleads guilty to