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Direct to Consumer Advertising

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By melissacomparato
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Business Ethics
Second Paper – Deontological Analysis
June 19, 2013

Direct-to-Consumer Drug Advertising: Ethical or Not? The United States and New Zealand are the only developed countries that allow direct-to-consumer advertising. Whether the practice of direct to consumer advertising is beneficial to the consumers or not is a highly debated subject with both positions presenting sound reasoning for their position. Whether the practice is beneficial or not to the consumer is not the question, but rather, is advertising prescription drugs directly to consumers ethical? To analyze this question I will use Rawls’s second principle of distributive justice for analysis.
(2) use that method, developing the argument in support of your case; In utilizing direct to consumer advertising for prescription drugs is the advertising “reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage”? and “attached to positions and offices open to all?” (DeGeorge 78) One of the predominate claims of the pharmaceutical companies that the advertisements educate the consumer, thus giving them more information to evaluate their needs and to speak intelligently with their doctor. So, is the information provided in an ad or commercial “reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage?” It is reasonable to assume that everyone is exposed to the ads with the various media outlets used, such as TV, radio, newspaper, magazines and so forth, but is the education to everyone’s advantage? The drug companies receive a great deal of returns for every dollar spent on the advertising, thus increased profits which benefit the employees and stockholders of the company. Insured American’s may fall under the benefit, as noted by supporters, of seeking medical attention earlier resulting in an earlier diagnosis and, in some cases, treatment for something that may have gone completely untreated. Treatment of depression is used a lot as an example of a once undertreated disease that people have now received treatment for as a result of the advertisements removing a degree of the stigma associated with the affliction. Supporters also emphasize the increased treatment of ailments with the newest drug on the market, due to the advertising and education. Is this always to the consumer’s advantage? What about cases where side effects of the drug have not been fully realized before the drug is released, but the consumer’s desire for a cure to their problem prompts the request for the medication per the claims made in the ad. This was the case for Vioxx that was advertised to be a great reliever of arthritis pain. “The FDA estimates that Vioxx was responsible for as many as 139,000 heart attacks and almost 30,000 deaths from heart attack or stroke.” (Woodard The Vioxx ad did not have this information as these were unknown severe side effects of the medication. Assuming that not only the highly qualified personnel that created Vioxx, but also the FDA personnel, took all proper measures and examined complex data and concluded that the drug was safe to release, that poses the question of the ability of the average consumer to truly understand the risks associated with a drug even if the information is provided in a handout with the medication. This is a point of opponents of the DTC advertising. The average consumer, without proper training and knowledge of the medical field, cannot evaluate a drug based on an ad. This can also complicate the relationship between the patient and the doctor. While some doctors say the advertising helps in the discussion with the patient because the patient has some information, others hold the position that patients requests for medications may not be in their best interest and doctors, in an effort to please the patient, prescribe the medication though another one may have done as well, or better, for a lower cost.

In regards to the price of prescription drugs, supporters note that the advertising promotes competition among the drug companies, thus driving the drug prices down. Assuming that this is true, which is disputable in itself, “some opponents also suggest that DTCPA increases health care costs because visits to the physician prompted by a drug ad can be a waste of time and money”.( So if the prices are driven down then that would be of benefit to some and if they are, in fact, increased that would be of impact to all consumers. This ethical analysis does not require an answer as to which point of view is true.

For this ethical analysis, the questions are if direct-to-consumer drug advertising is “reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage” and are the advantages “attached to positions and offices open to all?” (DeGeorge 78) So the drug companies are making more money and insured Americans are obtaining better health, but what about the least advantaged group? What benefit does drug advertising serve to someone that is uninsured and unable to pay for the drug? Has Rawls requirement of the acceptable inequality been met? Acceptable inequality is acceptable as long as the least advantaged group benefits along with the more fortunate. Direct-to-consumer advertising does not meet this requirement as it is of no benefit to the least advantaged group of society such as the uninsured. This also confirms that the advantages are not “attached to positions and offices open to all.” By Rawls second principle of distributive justice direct to consumer drug advertising is unethical.

“Why are nations and people divided on the appropriateness of direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical drug advertising?”(DeGeorge 320) As stated at the beginning of this paper the United States and New Zealand are the only two developed countries that allow DTC drug advertising. Acknowledging that within the US opinions are split as to whether DTC drug advertising is beneficial or harmful and that other developed countries, such as our friends in Canada and Europe, still ban drug advertising, the question of whether DTC drug advertising is ethical would not hold up to Kant’s “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” (DeGeorge 65)

Works Cited

DeGeorge, Richard T. Business Ethics. 7th ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2010. Print
Woodard, Larry D.“Pharmaceutical Ads:Good or Bad for Consumers?” February 24, 2010.…...

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