Conflict in the World of Medicine

Howard Brody, director of the Institute for the Medical Humanities at the University of Texas Medical Branch, gave a presentation on Thursday, Oct. 11 at the UC Irvine Beckman Center as part of the Howard A. Schneiderman Lecture Series.
‘Conflict of Interest in the Academic Medical Center: Is it a Problem?’ centered on the issues of financial interests in medicine and ethical concerns on behalf of patients, doctors and pharmaceutical companies.
According to Brody, the traditional relationship between patients and doctors has changed immeasurably over the past several decades. He explained that this is due to the transformation of the pharmaceutical industry into a powerful entity with billions of dollars at its disposal.
Brody noted that there is nothing ethically wrong with the pharmaceutical industry turning a profit because, ultimately, medicinal economics is simply a supply and demand system. If patients demand medicine that a pharmaceutical company agrees to supply, then that company should get paid for its products.
However, the relationship between patients purchasing medicine and pharmaceutical companies supplying that medicine is not always clear-cut. Factors such as poverty, which creates an inability for patients to buy medicine, run rampant throughout the United States.
Brody explained that in the wake of such economic dilemmas, patient advocates and industry defendants have written works that swing the ethical pendulum both ways.
One writer discussed at great length was Richard Epstein, an industry defendant who claimed that profit is a corrupting power. According to Epstein, however, protecting the industry’s right to earn a profit and retain more resources can lead to greater medicinal advances down the line.
Brody concluded by addressing the conflicting interests of patients and pharmaceutical companies and noting that both sides of this issue should be examined before a judgment is made.
‘I believe that logical and conceptual reasons can be offered,’ Brody said. ‘I believe that these reasons alone are of limited use in explaining the nature and extent of the debate