The Unethical Face Of Martin Shkreli

Smirk

The face above belongs to Martin Shkreli, who was subpoenaed to testify before Congress over  last September’s decision as CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals to raise the price for Daraprim, an antiparasitic commonly used to treat HIV patients, from $13.50 to $750 a pill. Shkreli bought the 60-year-old drug from Impax Laboratories in August for $55 million and swiftly raised its price. Three months later he stepped down from that position in December following his arrest on securities fraud charges. He is now free  on $5 million bail.

He is probably the less able to justify that face above, which he displayed to the elected representatives of the United States of America  on earth while refusing to testify, repeatedly citing his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. Nobody could justify that face, of course; not a ten year old brat, and definitely not a greedy, narcissist corporate executive and predator. In a setting where he should be humble and remorseful, he was defiant and disrespectful. The face is an affront to the entire nation and everyone in it. Continue reading

The Deceitful, Illogical, Unethical Disclaimer

Don't be fooled by Voldemort's disclaimer!

I once worked for a company that was specifically targeted by an industry group for coordinated attacks and anti-competitive tactics. We obtained a copy of the agenda for the planning meeting for this onslaught, and the bullet points looked like part of a hypothetical in an anti-trust class law school exam. This was the most blatant collusion in restraint of trade imaginable. But the  lawyers for the group apparently thought all could be made benign and legal by a disclaimer on every agenda copy that  said, in effect, “Don’t pay any attention to what this agenda says—trust us, it’s all fair and legal.” The disclaimer stated that the organization fully supported and followed all provisions of U.S. anti-trust statutes, and would never, ever do anything to violate them. This is roughly the equivalent of a mugger telling his victim that he is non-violent while he’s punching him in the face.

I am reminded of that agenda when I see commercials for new drugs, which show healthy, happy, beautiful models frolicking with their families or lovers in idyllic settings while the announcer, usually at breakneck speed, warns that the drug may cause violent flatulence, boils, locusts, insanity, cannibalism and excruciating death. I was reminded of the agenda again when I learned of the latest gambit by PublishAmerica, which earlier this year got in trouble with “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling by soliciting money from authors by promising to bring their works to her attention: Continue reading

Sorrell v. IMS Health: Legal, Ethical, and Unjust

The case of Sorrell v. IMS Health, which the Supreme Court decided yesterday, sharply focuses the philosophical disagreement over the role of the courts in public policy. The legal question was rather straightforward; the ethical issues are complex. Is it the Court’s duty to make bad—but constitutional— laws work, or is its duty to follow the laws, and leave it to the legislature to fix their flaws?

This was a case about incompetent  lawmaking. Gladys Mensing and Julie Demahy had sued Pliva and other generic drug manufacturers in  Louisiana and Minnesota over the labels for metoclopramide, the generic version of Reglan. The drug, used to treat acid reflux, had caused them to develop a neurological movement disorder called tardive dyskinesia. None of the generic drug’s manufacturers and distributors included warnings on the labels about the danger of extended use of the medication, even though the risk was known to them. Neither did the manufacturers of the brand-name drug. The problem was that the state statutes required generic drug manufacturers to included warnings about dangerous side effects, while federal regulations required generic drugs to carry the exact same label information as their brand name equivalent.  Continue reading

As Sick Children Suffer for Congressional Incompetence

For reasons no one has yet explained, a provision in the new health care reform law removes a previously Congressionally-mandated discount to children’s hospitals for drugs used to treat so-called “orphan diseases,” illnesses that are not common enough for the drugs to be profitable. Pharmaceutical companies have begun notifying the hospitals that they no longer qualify for the discounts, and the change will cost  hundreds of millions of dollars, as well as put sick kids at risk. Continue reading

GlaxonSmithKline Inspires a Fun Game For Your Holiday Party: “Forcast That Ethics Scandal!”

Almost all ethics scandals and examples of outrageous unethical conduct are thoroughly predictable, whether they involve individual, organizations or institutions. The most obvious proof of this is in politics. Once we consider past patterns, current conditions, institutional habits and what we know about human nature, the question when a new political party takes over isn’t whether there will be instances of bribery, influence peddling, self-enrichment, and conflict of interest, but only which elected leaders will be caught at it. Sometimes even that part is easy: everyone should have been able to guess, long before they occurred, that Tom DeLay’s ethics-free philosophy of politics as warfare would lead him to commit serious misdeeds, just as the odds against former Florida Rep. Alan Grayson running a fair or civil campaign for re-election were prohibitively high. Similarly, sports scandals can usually be seen coming a long way off. Once New England Patriots coach Bill Belichik was caught making surreptitious videos of his team’s opponents’ practices, it was easy to guess that he wasn’t the only one, and that since both he and his team were so successful, it would be only a matter of time before a similar incident came to light. And it did, last week.

As I look through various Ethics Alarms posts, it is striking how many of them could have been written in advance, in fill-in-the-blank format. All you need to do is identify an industry with a history of ethics problems, a weak ethics culture, a trusting, under-informed audience, the potential for increased profit, power or influence, and a large population of corruptible, lazy, incompetent, venal, ambitious or cowardly allies. I’m sure a computer program could be developed, but for this holiday season, why not forecast next year’s ethics scandals as a party game? Challenge your guests: Which TV reality show will be shown to have completely manipulated “reality”? Which revered sports figure will be disgraced in a sex or drug scandal? Which Wall Street firm will be caught violating the “sacred principles” posted on its website? Which school will suspend or expel a student for violating the letter of an overly broad and horribly-written rule without actually doing anything wrong? Which universally accepted scientific research will turn out to be the result of manipulated data? Which embarrassments of the Obama Administration will only be reported by Fox News, and which outrages committed by Republicans will the same network ignore?

And, of course, where will TSA employees put their hands next?

This occurred to me as I read about the recent Big Pharma-manipulating-medical-practice scandal, involving drug giant GlaxonSmithKline, while slapping my forehead and shouting, “Of course! This was the logical next step!” Continue reading

Ethics and the $1000 a Day Drug

Yesterday, The New York Times  informed us that a small drug company called Allos is charging $30,000 a month for a cancer drug, Folotyn, that treats a rare and usually fatal form of cancer that strikes fewer that 6,000 American a year. It doesn’t cure the cancer, but merely slows it down; even with that, victims seldom survive more than a few months. “This drug is not a home run. It’s not even a double. It’s a single,” the Times quotes Dr. Brad S. Kahl, a lymphoma specialist at the University of Wisconsin, as saying. Continue reading