A government minister in Ireland is suggesting that pharma company GSK should make reparation payments to the families of individuals who were subject to unethical research practices in a series of vaccine trials conducted between 1922 and the late 20th century. This raises a couple of interesting questions about corporate identity and responsibility. For one thing, the trials weren’t conducted by GSK, because GSK as such didn’t come into existence until the year 2000 (through a merger between of Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham). Legally speaking (though we are not lawyers) GSK likely inherited the legal obligations of its component companies. But ethically, things are less clear. Keep in mind, too, that none of the people who actually did the bad things — back in the 1920’s or 30’s or 40’s, certainly — none of them would still be there at the company. So in essence, we are attributing responsibility (ethically, if not legally) to, well, to something else. This is something to consider, especially for those who are skeptical about corporate personhood. For what the Irish government is saying is that GSK, as a ‘person’ (as a legal and moral entity) bears responsibility, even if it is now “a different company”, and even if now it is staffed by entirely different people.
Pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has been asked to consider making reparations arising from the findings of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes in relation to vaccine trials.
The commission found that two companies that now form part of GSK were involved in trials at the homes that did not comply with the standards at the time in relation to securing consent.
In a letter to GSK’s chief executive, Dame Emma Natasha Walmsley, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said he believed all relevant parties, including GSK, had a “moral and ethical obligation to take appropriate action” in response to the commission’s report….
What do you think?