Application of Ethical Theory to a Case Study Vignette

StarAlphaMedicines is a multinational pharmaceutical company with its headquarters in the UK. The Company’s Research and Development department is working on a novel breast cancer drug. This paper will look at the issues and stakeholders in the case. In addition, the case will be evaluated by the use of two ethical theories.

The drug under development could give the company a breakthrough because its profits have fallen resulting in a drop in its share price. However, the company still needs to conduct further trials on the effectiveness and safety of the drug for approval. The trials are very costly and lengthy to conduct in the country due to a strict regulatory environment. The company comes up with a decision to conduct the trials in a developing country X in Asia. The trial conditions for new drugs are favourable in country X. The X government allows international drug trials because it gets a cheap means to provide treatment for its poor citizens. Many women in country X suffer from breast cancer and are poor. Therefore, they would be willing to take part in the clinical trials for the novel breast cancer drug, as this may be their only possibility for getting treatment.

The three stakeholders in this case feel that if they cooperate they are likely to benefit in some way. Nevertheless, country X and the sufferers of breast cancer will not benefit much even if the drug becomes successful. StarAlphaMedicines does not have plans to make the drug cheaper in country X after approval. The women suffering from breast cancer will not be able to afford the drugs because of poverty. This means that they will not benefit from the drug yet they are the ones who will have led to its approval for agreeing to participate in the trials. This will be a case of the highest level of exploitation of a poor nation by a rich multinational. Country X has allowed clinical trials without putting into consideration the safety of its citizens first. This shows how companies will take advantage of developing countries’ economic situation to advance their own selfish interests.

The pharmaceutical company cannot rule out the occurrence of harmful side effects of the drug at this stage. However, they will go ahead and do the trials on human beings with this knowledge. They believe that the likelihood of the side effects occurring is very low. The company will most likely keep this information from the government of country X because revealing it would raise the stakes too high. Thus, innocent poor women will participate in the trials without knowing the risk they will be putting themselves in because StarAlphaMedicines is only interested in the profits it can make after the drug passes approval. The company does not care if the poor women suffer from serious side effects. What is interesting to note is that the company cannot conduct such tests in developed countries because the drug has the possibility of harming human beings. Does this mean that the life of women in developed countries is more valuable than the life of poor women in some developing Asian country? Should their government and multinational companies such as StarAlphaMedicines not safeguard the lives of the poor women against any harm.

StarAlphaMedicines is a multinational company and doing business globally often leads to conflict in norms. Majority numerous conglomerate corporations have ethics, integrity and mission policies and statements that regulate and direct their practices. On the other hand, when operating in countries outside their own they encounter different codes of ethics (Prawda, n.d, para. 1) Some of them practice behaviour that would be considered ethical in their own countries just because the government of the countries they operate in may not have strict regulations. In the case at hand, StarAlphaMedicines wants to run clinical trials for a new drug but the environment at home is very strict and they opt to conduct the trials in a developing Asian country because conditions for clinical trials are favourable there. The trial for the cancer drug in the UK will take a long time and the cost is very high. On the contrary, in Country X the cost and time of trials is reduced considerably. Therefore, the company takes the trials to country X to reduce development cost and maximise the profit. The ethical issues in this case will be evaluated using two ethical theories.

“Ethical rules are both standards and expectations of behaviour” (Jennings, 2008, p. 4). Ethical rules encompass all aspects of life and some of these rules are stated in law but everyone recognizes them as such. Businesses have a code of conduct that they follow. Yet some people say that businesses are generally unethical and only think about making a profit at whatever cost. Many scandals have been reported in businesses such as cases of fraud, corruption, breach of contracts, “despoiling rivers with industrial pollutants” (Crane & Matten, 2007, p. 6). This does not mean that ethics is a lost cause in business because ethics helps to determine which business decisions are ethical or unethical. In StarAlphaMedicines’ case, the decision they have made about conducting the drug trials in country X without transparency in the whole procedure is unethical. On the other hand, the company can defend its stand using the ethical theory of utilitarian.

The utilitarian theory of ethics “basically promotes good or valued ends” (Ethical Theories, 2009, Utilitarianism, para. 1). The means for achieving the end do not have to be right as long as the outcome favours the majority. The company will use the minority women in country X to run the cancer drug tests and if they succeed, they will benefit majority of women in Europe and the U.S. A few women in country X may suffer from harmful side effects and probably die but this will help the pharmaceutical company to improve on the drug and make safer for human consumption. Once the drug is approved, it will benefit more people and hence the trials are worth taking the risk. Even if majority of the women in the trial country will not be able to afford the drug, their counterparts in the developed countries will and thus save their lives. The company will justify performing tests with a drug that has not been ruled as safe and effective for human because they will be doing so for the greater benefit of the society. Therefore, this ethical theory will favour the company’s decision.

Conversely, the deontological ethical theory will look at the moral issues that are violated in the procedure. Developing drugs to cure diseases is ethical because this will help to save lives. On the other hand, it is not ethical to subject people to tests that may harm them. StarAlphaMedicines will run the drug test on the women yet the Research and Development department cannot rule out the occurrence of harmful effects. They only believe that the likelihood of this happening is very low. The fact that they know the drug is not a hundred percent safe means that it should be given to humans just because they are poor and vulnerable. Life’s sanctity should be protected across the board for the haves and have-nots. To administer the trials using the drug in its current state is a business malpractice with “the potential to inflict enormous harm on individuals” (Crane & Mitten, 2007, p. 11) The Company should invest more money to make the drug safe even if this will take more time and money before they run it on trials. In addition, if the drug passes approval the company should avail the drug to the women in the trial country, at a price below the market value. This is because they took the risk during the clinical trials. The company will help the women who will have helped them to make a profit in their European and U.S markets. The women are important stakeholders in the procedure and should not be discarded once they have been used in the trial. The company has a responsibility to the shareholders of the company to raise the share price. However, they can afford to lower the price for the poor women even if it means reducing their profits a little.

If I were in charge of making decisions in StraAlphaMedicines ethical considerations would be made at every step of the procedure. The Research and Development department would have to carry out further research to rule out the occurrence of any harmful side effects of the drug. The clinical tests would be carried out in country X because the environment is favourable but after approval of the drug, the price in that country would be set below the market price to enable the poor women access the drug. This would also be a way of showing gratitude for their acceptance to participate in this crucial clinical test. A company should always strive to balance ethics and ethics. Ethics are important in guiding a company in areas that the law is not vocal. A business that observes ethics acts responsibly putting the interests of all stakeholders and the environment consideration. This helps to reduce conflicts in the society by protecting businesses and the society.


Crane, A. & Matten, D., 2007. Business Ethics. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Ethical Theories., 2009.

Jennings, MM., 2008. Business Ethics: Case Studies and Selected Readings. New York: Cengage Learning.

Prawda, G., Management and Ethics.

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