Business Ethics & Alternative Medicine
Alternative medicine (includes things like homeopathy, herbal supplements, Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture, therapeutic touch, and so on) raises some interesting ethical issues. On one hand, most of it doesn’t work (or to be more accurate, most of it is unproven, and much of it is disproven), and we tend to think people should only sell products that work as advertised. But on the other hand, alternative medicine has many fans, and we generally think consumers ought to be able to choose for themselves what products are good for them.
Two other factors make alternative medicine interesting, from a business-ethics point of view.
One factor is that both the safety and efficacy of alternative therapies varies. Some therapies (e.g., homeopathy) are entirely implausible, whereas others such as some herbal therapies probably are effective. Not surprisingly, the pattern is reversed for safety: homeopathy is entirely safe (unless the consumer does something foolish like forgoing real medicine in favour of homeopathic remedies for the treatment of a serious illness), while on the other hand some herbal remedies pose significant dangers.
The second important factor is that alternative medicine is generally under-regulated. In Canada, for example, herbal supplements are categorized as “natural health products” and subject to only minimal oversight. The result is that neither consumers nor companies can assume that the law is providing significant oversight. In the absence of strong consumer-protection legislation, there’s a particularly strong obligation for companies to act ethically.
Here are my blog postings on this topic, in reverse-chronological order:
- Pharmacists and Candour About Homeopathy (May 2, 2010)
- Consumer Protection & Homeopathy (April 12, 2010)
- Which Alternative Therapies is it Ethical To Sell? (March 8, 2010)
- Charities, Stakeholders, and Guilt By Association (August 28, 2009)
- Ethical to Teach a Bogus Therapy? (August 25, 2009)
- Second Plea to Alternative Health Practitioners: Help With Health Reform! (June 17, 2009)
- British Chiropractors Retreating from Publicity (June 10, 2009)
- I Need A Homeopath or Naturopath (May 17, 2009)
- Marketing Useless (Magnetic) Products (October 21, 2008)
By the way, to the best of my knowledge, there is not a single scholarly paper that looks at the selling of alternative medicines from a business-ethics point of view. If you know of one, please let me know!