In 2015, Martin Shkreli gained worldwide notoriety for raising the price of Daraprim, a drug commonly used in the treatment of parasites in patients with HIV or cancer, by 5500% through his company Turing Pharmaceuticals.
This price ‘hike’ of Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 a pill, quickly branded Shkreli the most hated man in America, with the media and its consumers universally condemning the decision. Yet, in Shkreli’s mind, he’s the hero; with the profits being used to develop better medicines in future.
Grab them by the Pennies
In the famous words of President Donald Trump: “The point is that you can’t be too greedy”. Extreme wealth is not the only common trait between Trump and Shrekli; they also both lack ethical values and apparently, a good hairdresser.
The real question of the Daraprim Price Hike is: ‘Is it morally acceptable to prey on the lives of the weak for the sake of corporate greed?’ The obvious answer for any normal human being is ‘no’. However, the various stakeholders associated with this drug will have conflicting opinions. For Martin Shkreli, Turing Pharmaceuticals and the insurance companies, their only interest is making a profit at any cost. These stakeholders tend to take the Egotistical Approach and adapt virtue ethics, meaning they disassociate their actions from real human life and focus on the most ideal outcome for themselves. In fact, Shkreli openly stated;
Whereas, health care administrators and patients are purely interested in saving lives/staying alive, . This approach focuses on doing the most ‘good’ whilst causing the least harm. A side effect of this price has been an increased pressure on hospitals. Dr. Aberg of Mount Sinai claimed that hospitals are struggling to stock the drug and treatment is being delayed. Dr. Aberg states that;
One solution to this would be lowering the price of Daraprim so that it is affordable, but still turns a profit for the stakeholders. This seems like a win-win for all; yet unlikely to be embraced by such capitalist companies. Another option would be for insurance companies to offer lower premiums to those whom require the drug and act as a buffer for the price increase.
As Shkreli currently follows the Egotistical Approach, this only benefits a small number of stakeholders. To ensure that the most ‘good’ is done for the greatest number of people, the Utilitarianism Approach needs to be adopted. From this, decreasing the price of the drug would be ethically ‘correct’ and this course of action would satisfy the healthcare division, patients and even health insurance providers.
It takes very little reflection to conclude that we all deserve the right to a good quality of life and healthcare. Currently, the only ‘good’ which has come from this scandal is the realisation that karma does exist, as Shkreli currently awaits trial for fraud allegations.
Who knows, he might even take a class in philosophy whilst in jail and learn a thing or two about ethics!
Who needs Obamacare?
Hands up if you’ve heard of Daraprim before its media explosion in late 2015? Yeah, me neither.
Yet, this business strategy of turning old, neglected drugs into desirable “specialty” drugs is not new. In this era of extortionate drug development, Shkreli has out-smarted the system in quickly creating a profit from an already approved drug; a profit which is reinvested into the development of new and innovative medicines.
“We should use knowledge for good, even if the process is ugly. From the Pythagorean theorem to Fermat’s theorem, the math is ugly, but if you hold your nose during the process of proving it, you get to the right place.”
From the above quote, it could be said that Shkreli was inadvertently justifying his decision through the Consequentialist Framework with a “means justify ends” perspective. In this case, it is obvious that Shkreli is not evil. The so-labelled ‘monster’ has publicly stated that those who cannot afford the drug will receive it for free. Are we just conditioned to such ease of availability? Isn’t the only certainty in life, death, and in order to have the luxury of prolonging it, a monetary value be expected?
Alternatively, a Duty-based Approach can be justified. If Shkreli’s intention through increasing Daraprim’s price was always to create better medicines with its profits, then this choice can be classed as ethical; the consequence of this is unimportant.
From this analysis, it seems the correct course of action would be to keep the current higher price of Daraprim and implement this strategy with other ‘older’ drugs. This would generate more profit which would accelerate the pioneering of new cures for the masses.
Under the Utilitarian Approach, if Shkreli takes this profit from Daraprim and funds research for new and better medicines, this scenario would yield the most ‘good’ for a larger amount of people. No man, woman or child will lack access to Daraprim at this new cost; Shkreli aims to make profit from large corporations rather than the vulnerable citizen. This system promotes equity, which on the surface could be confused with inequality; for big companies, such as ExxonMobil and Walmart, this is a minor expenditure when compared to an average working family.
In today’s capitalist society, we need men like Shkreli to bridge the gap of money and compassion; the rich get richer and the sick get sicker. Increasing the price of Daraprim by 5500% is morally just, as the profits of this go directly into saving lives by investing in the future of medicine.
In the words of Shkreli:
Group 35: Robbin Hood, King Richard, King John, Sheriff