Ethical decision-making at bioscience companies

Pharmaceutical and biotech companies, grappling with complex ethical issues (such as stem cell and animal research), say that they are gradually formalizing systematic approaches to ethical decision-making, according to a study published in PLoS Medicine.

Jocelyn Mackie and colleagues (University of Toronto and Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences) performed over 100 in-depth, face-to-face interviews with top managers and executives at 13 bioscience companies to learn about bioindustry ethics from their perspective.

The research represents some of the first empirical evidence of how bioscience companies are dealing with ethical issues. Mackie and colleagues' work will be discussed by delegates at the annual international convention of the Biotechnology Industry Association in Chicago April 9-12 (www.bio.org).

Company managers and executives say that they have adopted five approaches to ethical decision-making:

Ethical leadership (e.g. in larger companies, whole departments are dedicated to ethical issues)

External expertise (several companies use external consultants to provide ethics expertise not available internally) Internal ethics mechanisms (e.g. some companies now weigh candidates' ethical values when hiring)

External ethics engagement (e.g. more than half of the companies studied require business partners to match their ethical approaches) Ethics evaluation and reporting mechanisms (a few companies studied have formalized the way they evaluate and report to stakeholders on their ethical commitments).

"Because they operate near the cutting edge of scientific research and development, with processes and products that are often controversial," says Mackie, "the ethical commitment of bioscience companies is regularly called into question."

"Our analysis uncovered five interrelated approaches, each with several mechanisms, used to address e

Contact: Andrew Hyde
Public Library of Science

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