Merck and River Blindness

As the head of Research and Development (R&D) at Merck and Company Incorporated in 1978, Dr. P Roy Vagelos confronted a critical challenge. Dr. Roy's senior, Dr. William C. Campbell, gave him a provocative note that year, advising him that he had made an intriguing observation that ivermectin, a chemical being researched for usage in animals, could be of use to people. Dr. William mentioned in his memorandum that the medicine could treat the distressing ailment of River Blindness, scientifically known as onchocerciasis caused by the onchocerciasis parasite. 71 (Weiss, Stephanie, and David Bollier). The dilemma called for making a decision between the right and the right which makes it even more interesting, was this moral dilemma? Well, it turns out it was. Before delving deeper into the correct course of action, it is vital to mention to possible courses of action that was available to Dr. Roy in line with the ethical views.

Deontological course of action

According to deontologists, an action is considered to be morally right if the process is ethical and that ultimate result is a consequence of the process in place. This approach lays more emphasis on the process of the course of action rather than the result. For instance, according to Weiss, Stephanie, And David Bollier ( 71), deontologists would advise Dr. Roy to follow keenly the process of researching on ivermectin without considering the consequences it would have on the company's shareholders or the stakeholders.

Teleological course of action

In Business Ethics, the teleological course of action concentrates more on the result than the process. The approach is also known as “the end justifies the means.” The teleological ethicists believe that a course of action is only right if the result is moral even if the process followed is wrong. In the case of Merck and River Blindness, the approach would encourage Dr. Roy to make a decision that would be moral in that it would take care of the both the stakeholders’ interests and the shareholder’s interests (Weiss, Stephanie, And David Bollier.72).

Utilitarianism course of action

According to Vagelos, P. Roy, and Louis Galambos (49), utilitarianism course of action is one which maximizes the best positive effect such as better welfare. The approach tries to strike a balance between teleological and deontological in that the ultimate result should follow due process to create a positive feedback. For instance, having Dr. Roy to research ivermectin only if the predictable result would be morally right.

Morally correct course of action for Dr. Roy Vagelos of Merck

A moral course of action is one which takes into consideration the interest of all the parties in a given scenario. There are three different phases of morally correct course of action that would direct one. The first phase is the preconvention phase where an individual makes a decision that best suits his or her interest. For instance, in this case, Dr, Roy would make a decision that only favors the fir and ignore the plight of the sick who are the stakeholders. The next phase is the conventional phase where an individual makes a decision based on the conventional values he or she believes in such as loyalty o=to a company. The final phase is the conventional post phase. In this phase, one looks at what is good for everyone. The best course of action for Dr. Roy was to proceed with the research and help over 370 million people (Vagelos, P. Roy, and Louis Galambos 144).

Reasons for the Course of action

Dr. Roy’s decision to research and develop the drug was in line with the mission statement of the Merck Company which did put the patients first and the company second. In a dilemma, it was clear that putting the patients first called for the development of ivermectin drug which ultimately helped over 370 million people even though it cost the company billions of dollars. The second reason is that it was part of the corporate social responsibility for the company to give back to their primary stakeholders and shelve the interest of the shareholders.


Based on the existing parameters which Dr. Roy had to consider, a win-win decision was to proceed with the drug and help the patients as he did. The decision was in line with the principles of ethical business and can, therefore, be said to have been morally right.

Works Cited

Vagelos, P. Roy, and Louis Galambos. The moral corporation: Merck experiences. Cambridge University Press, (2006): 49-144

Weiss, Stephanie, And David Bollier. "Merck & Company, INC." Readings and Cases in International Management: A Cross-Cultural Perspective (2003): 71-73.

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