About a decade ago, Merck, a global healthcare company, advertised for a vaccine, Gardasil, that purported to prevent cervical cancer. Merck's lobbying efforts were focused on appealing to concerned mothers regarding their daughters' health. The vaccine does not prevent cervical cancer, but instead, it decreases the chances of getting cervical cancer (Jezebel). Merck did not do the extensive research on the vaccine to know the long-term effect and the side effects. Merck's lobbying of the state legislature was to mandate the vaccine and make it a requirement for all middle school girls to take before they can attend school. If Merck succeeded in mandating the Gardasil vaccine by the government, then they would have been free from any legal responsibility if the vaccine becomes harmful later on. Merck's marketing techniques violated people's rights to have all the information available on a moral and legal level, and their personal freedom. The lobbying efforts also violated people's personal freedom. Lastly, the state legislature violated the duty they owe to their citizens to serve their interests. Using Emanuel Velasquez's legal and moral rights framework, Merck's marketing and lobbying efforts in state legislature violated individual's rights and is unethical.
Merck's marketing approach of Gardasil raises many ethical questions regarding the rights of individuals. Emanuel Velasquez defined the concept of rights as an individual's entitlement to something. What individuals are entitled to is dependent upon the institution granting these rights. Legal rights refer to rights that individuals have due to the legal institution they belong to. In the instance of American citizens, the Bill of Rights serves as the source of legal rights for citizens, providing them with freedom of religion and speech. Other rights arise from society and are called moral rights. These rights depend on what society deems an individual is entitled to. For example, most societies condemn pain or torture of individuals because free individuals have the right to not undergo pain. Rights are also accompanied by duties. When one is entitled to a certain right others in society have a duty uphold one's pursuit of that right by not interfering with the individual; this is called a negative right. Other times, others have to ensure that one's rights are upheld by taking an action; this refers to positive rights. Individual rights are essential in preserving one's freedom and autonomy against other people or institutions that may infringe upon one's entitled rights. Emanuel Velazquez's rights concept is a helpful tool for analyzing whether Merck's efforts in lobbying State legislature is an ethical decision.
According to the legal rights of individuals, the people have the right to know the full disclosure of the effects of a vaccine. From a legal rights perspective, the U.S. Government advocates for consumers' “right to know” (Velasquez 98). Consumers' rights classify as positive rights since Merck has a duty to the consumers to fully disclose all the information regarding the effects of Gardasil. A Washington Times article stated, “To date, most of the serious side effects, including deaths, that occurred during the pre-licensure clinical trials and post marketing surveillance have been written off as a ‘coincidence' by Merck researchers and government health officials” (Lind). Merck utilized the uncertainty in establishing the causality between Gardasil and the side effects experienced by the patients to make their vaccine appear safer. Merck's evasive tactics clearly violate the individuals' rights in receiving full disclosure of the possible consequences of Gardasil. Merck lost a lawsuit to 49 victims who claimed that Gardasil had caused them serious harm (Lind).
Merck also violated individual's rights to full disclosure of information from a moral standpoint. Modern society upholds that it is the right of the individual to have all the information available in order to make an informed and valid decision. Consequently, Merck has a duty in disclosing all relevant information to the consumers. Yet, Merck's questionable marketing strategy utilizes ambiguous detail that could mislead the public. Dr. Diane Harper, one of Merck's lead researchers, warned, “ Merck's aggressive marketing of the vaccine may have given women a false sense of security” (Attkisson). Using such marketing tactics clearly violates an individual's right to have all the information in a clear and concise manner. Furthermore, Merck attempted to spin Gardasil off as an ultimate cure for cervical cancer, yet this was not the case. As Merck later clarified, “Not all vulvar, vaginal and anal cancers are caused by HPV, and Gardasil protects only against those vulvar, vaginal and anal cancers caused by HPV Types 16 and 18” (HQ Base Theme). Using ambiguous marketing strategy allows the possibility for the public to misunderstand the consequences of the vaccine. With the high costs associated with vaccines, such as death, Merck violated people's rights by allowing ambiguous messages in their marketing campaigns.
Merck violated people's freedom by infringing upon people's choice of medical treatment. It is both the legal and moral right of people to freely and autonomously make choices, especially choices regarding their well being. Merck ambitiously attempted to mandate Gardasil to all girls in school through their lobbying efforts. Merck's lobbying efforts gained momentum in Texas, “Three weeks ago we applauded Gov. Rick Perry for making Texas the first state to require vaccinating young school girls — ages 11 and 12 — against the human papillomavirus” (A Necessary Vaccine). Individuals have negative rights to protect them from other interfering with their choices, and thus infringing upon their freedom. Governments are seldom allowed to infringe upon people's moral rights unless there are extenuating circumstances. Merck's lobbying efforts to mandate a vaccine violates people's inherent autonomy by forcing every girl to take this vaccine. Yet, in terms of cervical cancer, there are other viable options available for the public to use in order to prevent or treat cervical cancer. Gardasil vaccine is not the reason cervical cancer is decreasing in the United States. Over the years cervical cancer rate has dropped because of all the health services and alternative tests, such as the pap test, that are performed early on to catch the cancer (Jezebel). Therefore, there are clearly no extenuating circumstances available for the government to justify violating people's freedom of choice in dealing with cervical cancer. Forcing all girls to be vaccinated violates their rights and their parent's rights as well.
Merck's lobbying efforts also violate the public's rights to be served by their state legislature. State legislature owes their people the duty of serving them. Consequently, the people have a legal positive right to have their interest served by the state legislature. The lobbying efforts of Merck and the State Legislature's acceptance of such lobbying, violates the rights of the people as Merck's interest supersede the interest of the people. Thus, the state legislature violates the people's rights. Governor Rick Perry, who attempted to mandate the Gardasil vaccine in Texas, was strongly associated with Merck. “His former chief of staff is one of Merck's lobbyists in Texas, and the mother-in-law of his current chief of staff is the state director of Women in Government, an advocacy group that has received funds from Merck and has been a major part of Merck's lobbying campaign for Gardasil. Merck's political action committee also contributed to Perry's reelection campaign” (Clique). It is clear that the people's right to have their interest served by the state legislature is violated when Governor Rick Perry accepts contributions from Merck. With the lack of scientific literature ensuring the safety of Gardasil, Rick Perry is not serving his people's interest by mandating the vaccine.
Merck's unethical marketing and lobbying techniques violated the rights of the individuals involved. Merck's lack of research into the side effects of the Gardasil and their attempt to paint a misleading picture of the vaccine violated the people's rights to know and understand the full effects of the vaccine. The lobbying efforts also violated people's right to freely choose how to prevent or treat cervical cancer as a mandate through the state legislature would have eliminated people's freedom to choose. Lastly, the state legislature violated the people's right to be served by their state legislature, and instead served the interests of Merck. Clearly, violating people's rights, given both by the government and society, is unethical.
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