Ethics of Commerce in Alternative Medicine

business_ethics_highlights_2Is it ethical to make and market products without concrete evidence that they will work as intended? Here’s a new article from the peer-reviewed journal, Bioethics, that tackles that question with regard to complementary and alternative medicines. Full access to the article requires institutional access (e.g., through a university library) but the basics of the argument are this. The authors argue that the following 3 principles apply to ALL commerce….

Participants in commerce should endeavour to:
(1) Offer a product that works – a product that is, in the language of commercial law, 􏰀merchantable.􏰁
(2) Only sell products to people who understand their fundamental characteristics, and who are reasonably capable of understanding (either on their own or with suitable professional help) whether that product will meet their needs. This implies a general demand for honesty on the part of sellers, and a refusal to profit from the ignorance of consumers.
(3) Take reasonable steps to ensure that third parties (those who do not consent to participate in a particular market exchange) are not harmed.

And the authors further argue that many forms of complementary and alternative medicine fail one or more of those tests. (The authors also note that there are also products produced by mainstream pharmaceutical companies that would fail by those standards!) >>>

Alternative Medicine and the Ethics Of Commerce, by Chris MacDonald and Scott Gavura

ABSTRACT: Is it ethical to market complementary and alternative medicines? Complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) are medical products and services outside the mainstream of medical practice. But they are not just medicines (or supposed medicines) offered and provided for the prevention and treatment of illness. They are also products and services – things offered for sale in the marketplace. Most discussion of the ethics of CAM has focused on bioethical issues – issues having to do with therapeutic value, and the relationship between patients and those purveyors of CAM. This article aims instead to consider CAM from the perspective of commercial ethics. That is, we consider the ethics not of prescribing or administering CAM (activities most closely associated with health professionals) but the ethics of selling CAM…..


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