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Direct-to-Consumer Drug Advertising

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As people say, advertizing drives commerce. Therefore, company heads always try to launch good advertising campaign, hire people and specialists, and create slogans and teasers in order to attract audience to their products. They have been doing it for years already, especially in advertising such common goods as food, beverages, cosmetics, and so on. It became habitual for people to watch adverts on TV, which influences their decision on what to buy or what brand to choose. However, direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of drugs has appeared rather recently. It has both opponents and supporters who argue on whether it is ethical to advertise medications or not.

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By definition, DTCA is the promotion of prescription drugs directly to potential patients through such media as newspapers, magazines, television, and internet marketing. It is done as an effort to attract new consumers and promote brand-name prescription drugs. Other ways PR managers try to reach the audience include personal visits of sale representatives, provision of free samples and gifts to potential patients, as well as educational events and conferences (AAPA, 2007). Currently, only the United States and New Zealand accept DTCA as a legal act. There are efforts to launch it in Europe and Canada, while elsewhere it is still banned.

DTCA is a controversial question and it has pros and cons, because while some people think it is unethical, others consider it as a helpful resource. Further, the ethics of DTCA will be discussed in terms of Immanuel Kant’s theory of ethics and John Rawls’ principles of justice.

One of the main points Kant made in his works is the highlighting of the importance of a person’s motives to carry out an action in comparison with the consequences of this action. He says that even bad motives can result in good consequences, while good motives can lead to bad results. In addition, the philosopher tells that each person must act from duty, which begins with the understanding that the highest good has to be good in itself and good without qualifications. Kant also names what he thinks is truly good and calls it good will. In the meantime, such things as intelligence, perseverance and pleasure are not considered to be good in his works, because, as he argues, they may have a negative connotation (Kelly, 2006).

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Thus, the main thing for Kant is a good will in a person and the pureness of his/her motives. In the meantime, the main purpose of the people who advertise drugs is to sell the product. Unfortunately, they are not concerned with patients to get well, but to raise their profit. Advertisements mislead potential patients by exaggerating the benefits of certain products. For example, adverts usually do not mention anything about side effects of medications (AAPA, 2007). Instead, they show happy people having rest, entertaining or doing household chores. When a person is prescribed with the drug they have seen in advertisement, they may notice that it does not help as quickly as it is shown there and that they do not feel as good as they expected to. Hence, in accordance with the advertisers’ motive, people become misled with their desire to get well as soon as possible.

In addition, DTCA makes people think that the advertised medication is the best one, while in reality there can be a variety of other more appropriate and less expensive options (AAPA, 2007). Moreover, it can often be incompatible with other drugs, herbs, foods, and so on, which is also not mentioned in the advertisements. As a result, advertising do not reflect both advantages and disadvantages of a product, merely aiming at selling it.

According to Rawls’ principles of justice, freedom of conscience, association, and expression, as well as democratic rights and equality, are the essential factors that need to exist in the society. People need to be provided with liberties in the society and in the system of justice. Thus, there is a need for everyone to have similar opportunities in life. Rawls sees justice as fairness and favorable circumstances for everyone (Rawls, 2001).

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DTCA usually tells about rather expensive medications, which brings inequality among their consumers. Usually, only rich people can allow themselves to use these drugs, while the poor have to content themselves with cheaper and sometimes less effective medications. In addition, DCTA may lead people to the misconception of their physical state and make them overestimate the symptoms. Therefore, sometimes people only think that they are seriously ill, while in reality a much simpler treatment will suffice in their case. Moreover, these people include the rich for the most part.

On the other hand, DTCA makes people conscious of their health condition. Patients also may become more motivated to take control of their healthcare. It happens sometimes that a person may live with symptoms of a certain disease, thinking that it is normal. However, seeing that what they feel or experience may be a sign of a serious disease, they may go to a doctor to check their health condition. This may lead to a better treatment on an earlier stage.

To sum up, even though DTCA may seem good at some points, these adverts are unethical on the deontological point of view, since they take advantage of a person’s care for their health and desire to get well soon. They do not tell about possible consequences, such as side effects, and show results reached in too simple ways misleading consumers. Morally, such kind of advertising is unacceptable, because it is not aimed at curing people, but at making profit from others’ sufferings. Therefore, people need to take DTCA much more carefully. 

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