Pharma: Selling Cures or Selling Diseases?

This story will not be news to students of bioethics (health-care ethics), but it does provide a useful summary and links to some good commentary:
Drug firms accused of turning healthy people into patients

But according to reports published today, the truth is more complicated. Healthy people are being turned into patients by drug firms which publicise mental and sexual problems and promote little-known conditions only then to reveal the medicines they say will treat them.

The studies, published in a respected medical journal, accuse the pharmaceutical industry of “disease mongering” – a practice in which the market for a drug is inflated by convincing people they are sick and in need of medical treatment.

The “corporate-sponsored creation of disease” wastes resources and may even harm people because of the medication they turn to, the researchers add.

Pharma corporations, of course, deny this:

In a statement, Pfizer said it “only promotes prescription medicines to healthcare professionals and only in line with its licensed indications. Pfizer does not promote any of its prescription medicines to the general public and does not recommend, or promote the use of Viagra, outside of its licensed indications.”

I doubt anyone who’s seen a Viagra commercial could take seriously Pfizer’s claim that it doesn’t promote prescription medicines to the general public. Perhaps the claim here is that while those commercials are broadcast in such a way that the general public can see them, they are only intended for men with serious erectile dysfunction. If that is the claim, is it any different from claims made by cigarette companies that minors seeing their ads in magazines is “merely incidental?”

Here are the 11 articles on “Disease Mongering”, from the journal Public Library of Science Medicine.

In Business Ethics, the idea that companies may induce, rather than respond to, consumer demand is usually discussed in terms of what John Kenneth Galbraith called “the dependence effect.” Galbraith’s idea is basically that in modern society, all actual “needs” are pretty much met, and so in order to expand markets, manufacturers end up producing goods to satisfy wants that are actually the result of the very process that satisfies them. (Here is Friedrick A. Hayek’s critique of Galbraith’s idea, The Non Sequitur of the “Dependence Effect”. Student essay topic: How does Hayek’s criticism relate to the current charges of ‘disease mongering’?)

Here is a page for Cases on Advertising Ethicsx from CasePlace.Org

Some relevant books:
Advertising Ethics, by Spence and Van Heekeren
Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes : A Cultural History of American Advertising, by Juliann Sivulka
The Affluent Society, by John Kenneth Galbraith

1 comment so far

  1. […] for good reasons. (I’ve blogged about some of those reasons here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here, just to cite a few examples. See also some of the entries on the other blog I […]


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