The pharmaceutical industry is one in which companies develop, produce and market drugs for use as medications. The industry dates back to the middle ages, with apothecaries and pharmacies offering traditional remedies. It was not until the late 18th century that the industrial production of medicine blossomed and formed the type of pharmaceutical companies that we see today1. With increasing demands for an improved bottom line, this industry continues to be marred by the adverse effects of such capitalism in the arena of a much more complex entity: healthcare. As a result, on first reaction to the article – “Glaxo Probes Tactics Used to Market Botox in China” - it is easy to place blame squarely on the pharmaceutical giant, GlaxoSmithKline, as the main culprit in the allegations that sales personnel in China rewarded doctors with cash, credits and other various rewards for prescribing Botox to their patients. It is easy to come to this conclusion based on my Wisdom Tradition, that is, the core values instilled in me from my family, culture, and the life experiences that help to guide me to the “good” and the “right” when I make choices and decisions. As a large corporation, Glaxo is clearly looking to gain an edge and increase their sales and profits by any means necessary. By offering kickbacks to doctors to prescribe their drugs, Glaxo is crossing the line into criminal violations and civil frauds. However, after a closer examination of the situation, it becomes clear that there are several stakeholders – the firm, the doctors and even the government – who are ethically negligible in this case.
When you consider a company like GlaxoKlineSmith, you immediately notice a large corporation. Using Kahneman’s System 1 Thinking2, intuition tells us that the notion of a corporation has a negative connotation and that you perceive that their sole purpose is to maximize profit margins without worrying about anything else. Furthermore, Glaxo is identifiable as being a major player in the pharmaceutical world. Similarly, the fast and automatic response to “Big Pharma” is a bad one, since they are stereotypically associated with misleading buyers into thinking that they are benefiting from using their drugs. It is difficult to know exactly in a corporation of such size, if the orders of providing incentives, such as those described in the article, were to have come from the top or if it was a team or group, such as the Chinese sales personnel, acting alone in these actions. As stated in the article Blind Spots, by Bazerman and Tenbrunsel3, ethical gaps at the individual level are compounded when considered at the organizational level. Therefore, there are possibly many contributing factors to the ethical gaps seen by a company the size of Glaxo. In the Ford Pinto case, an employee states that “This company is run by salesmen, not engineers; so the priority is styling, not safety”3. Like Ford, GlaxoSmithKline is very much an organization whose value lies in sales, that is, how much product they move regardless of the side effects caused by their drugs. As a result, it is very easy to believe that Chinese sales teams felt extreme pressure from their superiors to meet a certain sales quotas. Another major factor that centers the ethical claim on what also points towards Glaxo as being the main offender is the decision by the Chinese sales force to use personal email instead of their work accounts to discuss tactics to market Botox to doctors and hospitals in China. This implies that they were hiding their communication because they believed that what they were doing was morally and ethically wrong.
Another major stakeholder in the allegations against Glaxo is the group of doctors in China who were receiving cash rewards and perks for prescribing Botox to patients. Based on the readings of “How Good People Make Tough Choices – Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living” by