Martin Shkreli: Robin Hood or Robbin’ B*stard?

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;

“I did it for my shareholders’ benefit because that’s my job. The political risk is being shamed, and shame isn’t dilutive to earnings per share.”

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;

“This seems to be all profit-driven for somebody… and I just think it’s a very dangerous process.” 

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:

“If I take their money to do research for dying kids, I think I’m a hero, let alone evil.”

Group 35: Robbin Hood, King Richard, King John, Sheriff

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24 thoughts on “Martin Shkreli: Robin Hood or Robbin’ B*stard?

  1. Disgraceful behaviour and attitude. A drug that can save lives, was once affordable but has now been taken away from millions of patients due to its extortionate price hike. If they needed to raise the price to help fund finding better medicine for the future, then all they had to do was double the price. The drug would have still been affordable to those millions and more of the drug would be sold raising the profits.
    The guy may be putting money towards research on future drugs but I bet he’s lining his own pockets too. In my opinion, it’s pure greed. Why does everything need to have a price on it?
    Why should parents have to try and raise cash so their child’s life can be saved? Why should so many people die needlessly when we have an available drug there that can save them?
    I personally think his reasons are immoral but that power and greed he has doesn’t have any impact on his attitude. He doesn’t give a damn what people think about him.

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  2. Very well written article, also well thought of title. I remember watching a lecture by Shkreli where someone tried to argue with him about the price hike, and his answer was something along the lines of him having such great knowledge of the pharmaceutical sector that he knew what he was doing. He was playing it along the lines of the price hike improving research into future medicines, therefore improving the drugs his company can sell. In turn this will continue to increase the profits of Turing, the true end goal for every capitalist.

    However, the price hike also made him and his company extremely disliked and lead to large losses for Turing. Also his arrest and current trial have done no benefit for his image. However, it all comes down to money, and this move appears to have not played out well for Shkreli. But maybe his research into future medicines could help cure multiple diseases in the future, we will just have to wait and see. Although the price hike made him more well known, the companies continuous losses, along with his own net worth dropping, could end with Turing not even having the money for this future research.

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  3. He has already stated that he acted in the benefit of his shareholders, yet also states he is a hero for raising money ‘to do research for dying kids’. A person who does evil, whilst simultaneously believing they are doing good, is the most dangerous (for more information, search Adolf Hitler)

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  4. Healthcare in general has been a pretty hot button topic lately all around the world. Especially here in the US one of our senators Bernie Sanders ran for president with a platform to reform our whole healthcare system and he had a lot of people behind him ready for the change. There are a lot of people here that cannot afford health care and it’s not right. Many people are going untreated and I don’t think life is a privilege that is bought, it’s something everyone deserves. I’m no expert on politics, but this is just my opinion based off of what little I do know. Is jacking up the price of a drug making it over 5000 times the price is was wrong? Of course. What’s even more wrong is Martin is not the only drug company exploiting these. He is just the one that brought attention to this problem. He has recognized this and even tho what he’s doing sucks, you could argue that there is a positive side to this. I’ve seen a lot of interviews with him and they guy is very smart. Almost too smart. He said himself that one of his goals other than taking advantage of capitalism in its purest state, is to bring awareness to this problem in the pharma industry and realize that it’s just not him being the bad guy, it’s the entire system. Media has also made it seem like he has no reguard for the people that need his drugs or the hospitals that can’t afford it, but I’ve seen him chat with people with aids, and discuss this issue. He believes that his drug is affordable. The insurance companies are the ones getting screwed and yes it does suck it increases premiums but I guess thats another can of worms I don’t want to get into cause really I don’t know enough about it to argue. Martin has said that if someone who genuinely needs the drug, to contact him. He will make sure they get it. Also as for hospitals I believe he has said that a lot of hospitals have over stocked the medicine and most of it doesn’t get used. The amount of people that use the drugs is so low, it’s impractical to keep a large amount in stock. In my opinion Martin can be viewed both ways. I’m not saying either is right. is he evil, I don’t know.
    Part of me believes he’s been told he’s the villian so much, he is starting to just play along. It’s all of this still a huge problem, of course. I apologize for the scattered thoughts and awful grammar.

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  5. The large price increase is extortionate and specifically increases the negative effect to the specific people who require the drug. If the company requires more money to fund research into new drugs, small price increases should be done across a range of drugs in order to not single out any particular group.

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  6. I think the point made that this price increase will benefit the future of medicine is tenuous in terms of arguing for Shkreli to be seen as Robin Hood. If there was a positive outcome to this it would be an upside to an unethical decision rather than an entirely positive move. He openly stated that his intentions were to work in the shareholders’ favour. I think intentions are important when determining whether Shkreli is ‘robbin-hood or robbin-bstard’, regardless of what the eventual outcome will be.
    Not only that, but this upside is looking at saving future lives with future medicne, which is a lot more ambiguous than the lives of the people who are currently suffering from the price increase. Surely we should be prioritising the lives of people who need medicine right now?
    It’s a common argument from drug companies that the money goes into research but my opinion is that the amount they charge is criminal and their only motivations are lining their back pockets. I completely disagree that the actions of Shkreli, and other people who have charged insane amounts for drugs, are morally just.
    What are the terms in place for proving that you can’t afford the drug now the price has increased? I would assume that there are a lot of people who can just about afford it but will also struggle to do so and will now have to make sacrifices elsewhere to pay. Not only this, but assuming it’s covered by insurance or the NHS, this will inevitably lead to higher taxes or insurance rates. Insurance companies often use the argument that their costs are higher to justify raising their rates.
    This article raised a lot of interesting points and I certainly hope that there is a positive impact on research funding for future medicine, however I think Shkreli is a terrible person with no interest in helping those in need.

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  7. The pharmaceutical industry’s lifeblood is R&D. The success of major drug companies is almost wholly dependent upon the discovery and development of new medicines, and their allocation of capital expenditures reflects that fact.

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  8. If you actually need the drug and don’t have insurance, you can email Shkreli and he will send you it for free. He has repeatedly stated this.

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  9. I do not agree that this is a valid way of making money, how can in any situation it be justifiable to increase the price by a percentage of over 5000. Although it has been mentioned the drug is freely available for people that do not have insurance, what about the impact it has on people with insurance, increasing the price of the drug clearly is going to affect the costs. If insurance companies are going to have to pay more for drugs, they are going to have to get that money from somewhere, possibly by increasing how much insurance it, this could affect so thousands of people. It can obviously not be freely available to everyone but a more reasonable prize would clearly be more ethical. How can it be allowed that a profit for a stakeholder comes above all else? Even with these assurances that it will not prevent anyone in need from obtaining the drug. It is unacceptable, health should be priority.

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  10. Regardless of where the money goes, to shareholders or to developments medicine, there are still sick people being exploited by an unnecessarily high price – that, to me, is the main issue. Where the money goes is secondary to the strain that the price could potentially put on those who are already less fortunate for having this illness. Why should it be their pockets that fund developments in medicine, if that’s even where the money ends up? There are other ways to fund research without raising prices beyond the scope of reasonable price. Shkreli using research as a cop-out argument to defend his decision is irrelevant in my opinion, especially when he has also said it was for shareholders – will those paying for it ever find out where their money actually goes?

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  11. I’d be very interested to know more about the fact that “those who cannot afford the drug will receive it for free” – with this kind of thing it’s always hard to define the cut off lines and as such they don’t always represent what could actually be considered “fair” – eg it may be that one *could* afford it, just about, and lie just past the cut-off line, but paying the extra amount would lead to major effects elsewhere on their quality of life.

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  12. It’s really sad to know that because of greed people’s lives and health are at stake in this society! The fact that there is a drug available to help individuals that are in need yet isn’t accessible by everyone due to it costing a ridiculous amount is shocking! Surely research is done to produce effective drugs to help people but where is the logic in pricing the drugs at such a cost which could mean the drugs aren’t even affordable to purchase? As a social worker I see individuals that face such troubles due to financial difficulties on a daily basis which effects their families and mental health which is heartbreaking! Definetly do not agree with Shkreli and his attitude!

    P.s really enjoyed reading this article, very well written!

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  13. I’m not quite sure how to digest this…
    It doesn’t take a top economist to understand how lucrative the pharmaceutical trade is…

    It’s one thing hiking the price so quite obviously a financial gain, however its another to withhold drugs to ensure they are needed and depended upon more… or are they are the same thing….

    Sorry, but this story really doesn’t prove anything other than a two sided argument without actually going into the current state of possibly the most lucrative industry in the world…

    A corrupt moneymaking scheme, with no other grounds or foundations than simple business bullying, the drugs are treated as trade products, not as live saving medicine, but as a simple product, ruled by the supply and demand thought process…

    This Martin chap is a total prat, Trump is a total prat, and all of that us buy into this rubbish and try to justify it,… we’re all totally lost in a system that has been created to just play us…

    Congratulations… you’ve all just played yourself…

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  14. Treating the parasites is a necessity in order for survival, raising the price by 5500% is disgusting. Treatment should remain at the original price or in fact be free. If the drug is to be given to people that can’t afford it for free, then why should anyone pay.
    The profits being made available to new drug developments may not even benefit patients taking the Daraprim, therefore, why should they pay the shortfall.

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  15. While I can see the logic in his justification, “I take their money to do research for dying kids”, I see no reason to have raised the price by 5500%. The idea behind this price hike is an important one, new medicines are required in order to progress and save lives, however preventing access to drugs that were readily available to a vast number of patients does not fall under the category of the end justifying the means.

    I enjoyed reading this article, as it is both insightful and balanced! After picking up on this ‘scandal’ in the newspapers when it first occurred, this article has not only increased my knowledge on the subject but also peaked my interest in pharmaceutical companies and the ways in which they maximise profits.

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  16. Firstly, great article!

    It’s absolutely shocking that this ‘hero’ believes the only way to help raise money for research is to crush others. Has he never heard of a ‘fun run’?

    However, as for where the cut-off point should be for who pays and who doesn’t, the NHS have managed to sort this with some paying for their treatments/prescriptions and others not… therefore it is possible just requires some thought.

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  17. Interesting article. Every piece I have read about Shkreli has taken one view or the other. This is down to Shkreli himself who has put forward each argument at different times. I was tempted to think “time will tell” but after further reading, I believe the man is simply price gouging – no funding for research just profiteering.

    This episode raises other questions about the role of big pharma in society.

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  18. When we read about a wonder drug no matter what it is supposed to cure it always seems to cost the earth. When individual companies are condemned for price hiking and families of young children have to try and raise money through charitable donations to get the right treatment it pulls at the heart strings. Should we condemn the company’s for profiteering, the parents for begging for help or should we be looking at the governments of the world who can spend billions on defence or weapons of war instead of protecting the health of their citizens.

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  19. I don’t know how can sleep at night and still think that what he is doing is for the good of the many whilst hundreds of people are going without their life saving medication. There are more people every day trying to raise money to save a poor child’s life by taking them to another Country, mainly America, to hopefully get life saving help for the child and it doesn’t always happen. Disgusting is what I say about this man and anyone else like him.

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  20. When we read about a wonder drug no matter what it is supposed to cure it always seems to cost the earth. When individual companies are condemned for price hiking and families of young children have to try and raise money through charitable donations to get the right treatment it pulls at the heart strings. Should we condemn the company’s for profiteering, the parents for begging for help or should we be looking at the governments of the world who can spend billions on defence or weapons of war instead of protecting the health of their citizens.

    I don’t know how can sleep at night and still think that what he is doing is for the good of the many whilst hundreds of people are going without their life saving medication. There are more people every day trying to raise money to save a poor child’s life by taking them to another Country, mainly America, to hopefully get life saving help for the child and it doesn’t always happen. Disgusting is what I say about this man and anyone else like him.

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  21. A well constructed article that clearly demonstrates that excessive corporate greed outweighs any concern for the what is morally or ethically correct. The extremely exhorbitant price hikes cannot be justified when it prices the majority of potential users out of the market.

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  22. A well written article that stimulates discussion. Whilst I believe Shkreli is wrong to do so, I’m sure there are many others who would do likewise.

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  23. The article neatly illustrates the ethical issue with all drug manufacture. Pharmaceutical companies need profit to fund research and development without which there would be no drugs. How does one decide what is a fair price?
    Shkreli is a “businessman” first and foremost, a former hedge fund manager and certainly no chemist. He was profiteering and not necessarily legally.
    The writers have used his story to make this ethical debate accessible and relevant to readers.

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  24. How is it determined as to whether someone can “afford” the drug or not and therefore their eligibility for receiving it for free? It could be the case that the majority now receive it for free and only the rich pay and ultimately fund the research. Likewise, it could in fact be that the “affordability” bar is set very low and the vast majority of people would have to pay this higher amount which is clearly unacceptable.

    Either way, the $750 price is extortionate for those who are deemed to be able to “just about afford” the drug.

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