Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pfizer's Illegal Testing on Nigerian Children Scandal (1996)

Based on a paper by: Corrigan Harreys and Carol Haskel
Summary by: Emily Klag

Pfizer is the largest research and development pharmaceutical company in the world. It develops, produces and markets many of the most popular prescription drugs on the market. Many of their products have helped advance health care, treatment and cures of diseases, as well as illness prevention in humans and animals. However, the company was involved in a major scandal in 1996, that was not revealed until December 2000, involving an experimental drug trial for trovafloxacin on Nigerian children the broke global ethical guidelines. 

 The drug, typically called Trovan, was manufactured to treat cerebrospinal meningitis. In the year 1996, there was a large outbreak of the disease in Nigeria's Kano district. Since cerebrospinal megingitis epidemics are rare in the United States, the company was eager to test this new drug on the Nigerians while there was still an opportunity. The drug trial was set up quickly and under hasty conditions to take full advantage of the outbreak. The company fraudulently provided an approval letter from the Nigerian Ethics Committee in order to start the research in the region. The corporation used children whose parents were panicking about their infected children. Pfizer often did not inform the parents that they were submitting their child for an experimental drug trial or that Trovan had never been tested on children before then.About 200 children were tested; the results ended with five deaths and multiple severely disabled children. After evidence was found, Pfizer quickly defended itself saying that it was proud of the way the trial was handled claiming that good medical practice and ethical norms were held up to standards. The rest of the world was not convinced and blamed the corruption of the Nigerian Administration that allowed the drug testing on the company. Since then, Nigerians have been skeptical of immunizations and will refuse them out of fear.

There are a few ethical theories that can be used to analyze the case including: Individualism, Utilitarianism, Kantianism, and virtue theory. In foresight, all of the ethical theories state that Pfizer's actions were unethical in this case except Individualism.

The first ethical theory to discuss is Individualism. It is a part of Milton Friedman’s economic theory that states a company should do what it can maximize the profit. However, while trying to maximize profit the company and government laws must be obeyed and enforced in order to remain in accordance to ethical standards. Therefore, Individualism encourages companies to grow and develop by increasing the amount of production. This ethical theory does not have an emphasis on customer happiness because making a profit is more important. Also, Individualism does not emphasize making a good name for the company because the company should be more focused on making money. Since profit and production needs were met by Pfizer, the scandal was not unethical according to Individualism.

Another ethical theory, Utilitarianism can be used to analyze the scandal. This type of ethical theory calls for overall happiness and production of causes for the great good of humanity. Pfizer neither created happiness for all nor ran the trial for greater good, even though the company may have thought they did, because they did not know that the drug trial would not cause any problems. The stakeholders of this case include Pfizer workers, researchers, and CEOs, as well as the Nigerian children, parents, and government. It also include the United States as a whole because the testing created a bad image for the country. The drug testing did not create happiness for Nigerians, caused multiple problems for the children, and ended with lawsuits. None of the above mentioned agree with Utilitarianism, therefore the scandal is unethical according to this ethical theory.

Kantianism is another ethical theory that can be used to analyze the issue. It deals with acting reasonably and respecting customers. Kantianism values fairness to customers and rational actions within the business. Pfizer lied by producing a fake letter of approval and was inhuman to the Nigerians because it did not inform the people of what was actually happening. The company was deceitful to the United States as well because the country was uninformed about what happened until long after the drug testing was finished. Overall the scandal is unethical in terms of Kantianism.

Finally, virtue theory deals with the positive image of a company by implementing guidelines for courage, honesty, temperance, and justice. Those qualities are considered highly important in virtue theory because they are what shapes a company's image. It also brings customer trust, which causes increase profit and production. Pfizer ignored all these good qualities in the scandal. The company was cowardly because it refused to admit to the fraud letter or to the fact that unethical standards were held during the Trovan testing. Those facts also are considered highly dishonest. The company was impatient because it did not wait to make sure the drug was safe or that the correct ethical guidelines were met. Researchers only cared about testing quickly so that the drug could be put on the market quicker to make a profit. Finally, the company was greatly unjust to the Nigerians. The people involved in the scandal were uninformed and mistreated. It is obvious that Pfizer did not meet the ethical standards of virtue theory.

These facts and analyses are based on an original research paper by Corrigan Harreys and Carol Haskel, "Pfizer" (2011).

Coleman, Sarah. "Nigeria Pfizer Scandal." World Press. April 2001. Web. 15 Feb. 2013.

"Pfizer Pharmaceutical Company." Pfizer. 2002-2013. Web. 17 Feb. 2013.

Salazar, Heather. "Kantian Business Ethics." Western New England University, Springfield. 1 Feb. 2013.

Salazar, Heather. Slideshow notes. Does Business Ethics make Economic Sense?

Salazar, Heather. Slideshow notes. Utilitarianism and Business Ethics

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