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Originally published October 19 2005

Big Pharma and profit priorities: why business ethics never trickle up

by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, NaturalNews Editor

One of the things I've observed while doing public speaking, being a part of business councils and interacting with a lot of well-connected people in society, is that many people work with the pharmaceutical company known as Merck. Merck seems to be everywhere, with drug reps, consultants, marketing people, email marketing people, scientists, lobbyists and so on. It seems impossible to go anywhere in society without running into somebody who works for Merck.

At the same time, I've never met a person who worked for Merck who wasn't a really interesting and capable person. Every person I've met has been intelligent and appeared to be honest. So you may wonder: If Merck is made up of lots of ethical, professional people, how is it that Merck could ultimately be an organization that so aggressively markets products that inarguably cause widespread harm to patients? How can this contradiction exist?

Ethics don't trickle up

There are several parts to this answer. The first part is that in most of these organizations, like with Enron, the so-called "evil" people are at the top of the company making the decisions. They are not the everyday people you meet at conferences and seminars. By and large, the regular employees for Enron, Merck, the FDA or any other large company are hardworking, honest people. Most people who have these jobs are intelligent, have good ethics and try to do a good job. But at the top of these organizations, you often find a few decision makers who guide the company into actions and decisions that are ultimately destructive to society.

I believe this is true at the FDA, where the bureaucrats make decisions that override the good sense of the FDA's drug safety scientists. This was true at Enron, where a few greedy executives padded their pockets at the expense of investors and workers. I believe it's also true at Merck, where a few top executives are making the big decisions, while overlooking the positive intentions of the company's employees. But there's more to it than just that. It also has to do with the nature of the corporation itself, something that supersedes any intention of any individual employee or decision maker.

Corporations exist to generate profits, period.

When you look at drug companies and their reason for existence, you have to acknowledge that they exist only to sell pharmaceuticals (to generate profits for shareholders), and that if they are going to be more successful, they have to continue to sell more pharmaceuticals to more people. Thus, because we have a capitalistic society, and because public companies like Merck have to answer to shareholders, the battle cry or operative mantra, so to speak, turns out to be "Make more money," not "Serve the public good."

You see, it is the nature of the corporation itself that can ultimately be destructive to society, regardless of the positive intentions of those who work there. In this case, the intention of the corporation is quite simply, "Maximize profits." And that intention clearly collides with broader issues like serving humanity or actually healing people. To be more specific, if you teach people how to PREVENT cancer, heart disease or diabetes (three diseases that are at least 90% preventable, by the way), then you lose billions of dollars in profits as a drug company (because people who aren't sick don't need drugs). Thus, the idea of teaching disease prevention stands opposed to the obligations of the corporate leaders: to make more money! This is one reason why disease prevention is simply not taught in this country.

Now, to give you an extreme example of all of this in action, it is useful to look back at Nazi Germany, and the rise of the Nazi party and the atrocities that were committed by it. If you were to go back in time and interview many of the German citizens who were the common working folk of the Nazi party the accountants, the factory workers, the truck drivers, the paper pushers you would find that nearly all of them were individually honest, hardworking, friendly people, much like the everyday people who work for Merck or Enron or the FDA. Yes, they were part of a terrible machine of human suffering and destruction, but it does not mean that those low-level individuals themselves are evil people. The evil intent came from the top and trickled down. It was Hitler who set the tone, who made the law, and who allowed the atrocities to unfold. The vast majority of Nazi party supporters were just "following orders." Unfortunately, they were doing so without any sense of ethics, because most of those orders never should have been carried out -- and they wouldn't have been carried out if the individuals had the presence of mind, the personal ethics, and the courage to stand up and say, "No!"

In a very real sense, the drug reps, drug scientists, drug marketing experts and others involved in the massive pharmaceutical racket playing out in America today are also just "following orders" to keep their jobs. They're not looking at the big picture... the truth that they are merely a cog in a gigantic profit machine designed to expand disease and exploit human suffering in order to generate obscene corporate profits. Both the Nazi party and Big Pharma have killed millions of innocent people. The Nazis did it for political power, Big Pharma does it for financial power. Neither is morally justified.

Whether we're talking about Merck, or Nazi Germany, or the FDA or even the Bush Administration, it's usually only a few people at the top of these organizations that deserve to be labeled as evil. In the Nazi party example, that would of course be attributed to Hitler and his closest advisors who set the tone that allowed atrocities to occur. In the Enron example, there are a few top bureaucrats who have been convicted and are now facing jail time for being responsible for that company's financial fiasco. At the FDA, there are a few key decision makers at the top who are the driving force of the agency. A full 90 percent of FDA scientists are actually dedicated, caring people who applaud the actions of whistleblowers like Dr. David Graham (also an FDA drug safety scientist).

I've met people from all of these companies over the years, and that includes people from Merck and Eli Lilly and even the FDA, and I've never run across a person that I would characterize as evil or overtly destructive. The people that I've met have always been positive people, even while they work for organizations that I believe are ultimately causing untold human suffering and creating a negative impact on society.

Where are our priorities?

Here are a couple of additional thoughts on this. First, it's oversimplified to label an entire organization as being evil or destructive and to apply that label to everyone who works in that company. That's simply not accurate; the situation is more complex than that.

Second, it is useful to recognize that sometimes the very nature of our capitalistic society motivates the prioritizing of economic gain over a sense of ethics. That's a whole different topic, and it deserves treatment in a separate essay concerning the education of ethics in American society, because we have worshipped the dollar and economic growth for so long that we have forgotten to teach basic ethics to our children. And as they grow up, they become adults without ethics. And that ultimately leads to situations like Enron, or drug companies knowingly selling dangerous drugs, or FDA bureaucrats who seem to put public safety as their lowest priority. It all starts with what we teach our children.

Ethics education, in fact, may be the ultimate solution to this problem, because without ethics, we are a soulless economy. We may be very good at manufacturing drugs, marketing those drugs and selling electricity futures (as in the case of Enron), but we're not very good at propagating an honest, ethical business model that creates a positive effect not just for employees and shareholders, but also the customers and the public at large.

And if you ever meet someone who works for Merck, don't expect to find a dark, sinister figure shrouded in evil intent. You'll probably meet a nice, regular, everyday person. A person who's just doing their job and following orders.

Examine your own life and ethics: who do you work for?

Here's a question for those people reading this who actually work for drug companies, hospitals, medical clinics or federal regulators: maybe it's time you looked at the bigger picture here. What system are you contributing to? If you were a German citizen living in the time of Nazi rule, would you have accepted a job managing a bullet factory? Would you have taken a job as an accountant for the Nazi party? If your company was awarded the winning contract on the manufacture of gas chambers, would you have accepted the bid if it meant millions of dollars in personal wealth? Many people would have (and did).

At what point are you willing to give up personal gain for the greater good? Because if you're not, then the evil in the world isn't "out there," the evil is in you! And corporate America is merely reflecting the evil in your own heart. But if you are willing to say NO to being part of a destructive machine, then you help HEAL the world, starting with yourself.

That's a philosophy I've learned to live by. I was once offered $75,000 / month to conduct search engine services for a wealthy online casino. I turned it down, because I do not wish to support the online gambling industry. Similarly, a company I own was once offered a $150,000 contract from a tobacco company to help introduce a line of cigarettes to an Asian country. I didn't even have to consider it: instant no. I want no part in an industry that promotes cancer, suffering and death.

And this it how I made my way to an industry of health, healing, and integrity. Thanks for reading. This is Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, offering commentary for Truth Publishing.


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