Case research and analysis

| July 12, 2019

Management case studies are among the most frequently assigned coursework in  universities. To get the most out of  any writing service that purports to produce high-quality work, it is better to look at their sample work beforehand. It is for this reason that we are publishing this sample management case study. For the sake of transparency, we have posted both questions and answers.


Over several decades, pharmaceutical companies were accused of heartlessness when it came to providing drugs to people in Africa suffering from HIV/AIDS. Your task is to research the facts underpinning this topic and to provide a written report detailing your ethical analysis of the case.

Your report must include a discussion of the following:

1. Describe the facts you feel underpinned the case. Be sure to include a brief account of the ethical assumptions and values of the major stakeholders in this case.
2. Who was the decision-maker in the case, and what conflicting demands did they have to accommodate?
3. What was the initial ethical dilemma faced by the decision-maker in this case?
4. Using the Utilitarian, Kantian, Rights, and Confucian approaches to ethical decision-making, provide an analysis of the ethical dilemma.
5. Present and justify the final recommendation you would have made to the decision-maker in this case had they asked you for advice on how to resolve their initial ethical dilemma.


Title: Case research and analysis


Over the last several decades, pharmaceutical companies have been facing accusations of heartlessness on the issue of providing drugs to Africa for the fight against the HIV/AIDS scourge. The companies are often accused of pursuing profits at the expense of saving the lives of people suffering from HIV/AIDS. This is largely an ethical question that revolves around the extent to which business entities should go beyond the profit motive to undertake life-saving efforts in their operations (Scherer 2007, p. 103).

In this ethical dilemma, it is possible to derive different solutions on the basis Utilitarian, Kantian rights, and Confucian approaches to ethical decision-making. An analysis of this ethical dilemma from each of these perspectives is necessary in efforts to support’s one’s position regarding the way pharmaceutical companies do business in Africa, particularly in the context of ravages of HIV/AIDS.

The opinion held in this analysis is that it is correct for pharmaceutical companies to earn profits from business arising out of the HIV/AIDS scourge in Africa. This is because the companies are business entities and not charities; without the profit motive, the companies would not exist in the first place. Without the pursuit of profits, they cease to pharmaceutical companies.

This paper describes the various facts underpinned in the case study of ethical dilemma as well as the ethical values and assumptions that are held by major stakeholders in the pharmaceutical industry. Emphasis is on the entity making the decision and the conflicting demands that the decision maker had to accommodate. On this basis, a final recommendation is presented and justified on the decision I would have made when requested for advice on how to resolve the decision makers’ initial ethical dilemma.

Case facts: Ethical values and assumptions held by major stakeholders in the pharmaceutical industry

The issue of prices and profits in the pharmaceutical industry is a decades-long debate. In the era of HIV/AIDS, this debate has intensified. One of the critics of the industry was former US President Bill Clinton, who castigated pharmaceutical companies for selling prescription drugs for very high prices in order to reap huge profits (Scherer 2007, p. 104). In the early 1990s, similar complaints were aired by several Congressional committees and even went as far as to draft legislation to bring to a halt the rising prices of prescription drugs (Scherer 2007, p. 104).

            Despite this criticism, major stakeholders in the pharmaceutical industry have largely continued to hold onto their ethical values and assumptions regarding their activities (Brody 2005, p. 63). In this regard, the underlying ethical assumption is that just like other companies, they are in business to make profit. In the pursuit of profit, the stakeholders agree that they also have to adhere to the social responsibilities that apply to their line of business. The criticisms have often been characterized by claims that the companies pursue profits in a manner that makes them abandon their social responsibilities. These criticisms are normally magnified by the fact that the nature of the companies’ activities touch on human health and lives.

Decisions made and conflicting demands the decision maker

The criticisms are mostly being leveled by physicians, government officials, and social critics, who question the willingness by the multi-billion dollar industry to fulfill all its social responsibilities, mainly to poor people who continue to die of HIV/AIDS in weak and failed states in Africa (Green 2008, p. 158). For stakeholders in the industry, the underlying assumption is that it is right to make profits out of their businesses. On the other hand, they also hold the assumption that it is important to undertake their business in a socially responsible manner, such that in the long run, the wellbeing of humanity is improved. However, conventionally, the public appears skeptical about the willingness by the stakeholders to maintain ethical values in their business.

The skepticism arises from claims of failure by some companies to disclose all side-effects of drugs subjected to clinical research merely because millions of dollars had been sunk in the process (Spinello 2002, p. 621). The argument on the part of company executives is normally that it would make little business sense to disclose the side-effects as this would amount to discouraging people from buying the drug. Without the disclosure of such anomalous results, the drug is declared efficacious and is promptly sold for profits. However, the company would look bad in the eyes of public if the truth about the anomalous results is unveiled to the public by a whistleblower within the company. On the other hand, the decision to disclose the side-effects of the drug forthrightly means that no profits will be made. If anything, the clinical research would turn out to be a loss-making venture. This is clearly an ethical dilemma. The criticism arises because of the pharmaceutical companies’ decision to sell drugs for huge profits despite their side-effects to human beings.

Analysis of decision on the basis of Confucian approaches, Kantian rights, and Utilitarian approaches to ethical decision-making

From the perspective of Confucian approaches to ethics, there is a strong emphasis on humanism and the quest for altruism and expression of humanness towards other people within the community (Dawkins 2005, p. 265). Confucian ethics also emphasize on upholding the moral disposition to do good in order to uphold the cardinal values of a community. In the Confucian approach, one can even give up one’s life if that is what it takes to upload the community’s cardinal moral values.

The ethical dilemma faced by stakeholders in the pharmaceutical industry can be solved and justified using the Confucian approach. In this regard, the high profits would be worth pursuing only if such an undertaking was within the bounds of the cardinal values of community. In the event that the community’s values are not upheld, any company would be required to forfeit the profit-making motive. An excellent example of this scenario is the sale of HIV/AIDS drugs to poor and failed states in Africa. In such countries, most of the people are unable to afford the drugs. The companies ought to provide the drugs at subsidized prices, even if this will be done at the expense of profitability. Similarly, it would be against the Confucian ethics to sell drugs for which side-effects appearing during clinical research have been overlooked. This would amount to suspension of moral values just to make profits.

The Kantian ethics provide a slightly different perspective on how to solve the ethical dilemma. Kantian ethics see business primarily as a moral community. In this moral community, the decisions that pharmaceutical companies make with regard to the sale of HIV/AIDS drugs to African countries should form the basis of a clear ‘universal law’ that can be applied for all other moral actors who find themselves in similar situations. In light of this argument, the companies may have to think that if it is wrong for any multinational health-related industry to endanger the lives of African people by selling drugs at high prices no matter how profitable this venture may turn out to be, then it is also wrong for the pharmaceuticals themselves to do so.

The Kantian ethics would also provide a guideline on the ‘categorical imperative’ of the moral action of exploiting the poor Africans’ state of desperation to make huge profits (Cleaton-Jones 2003, p. 887). In Kantian ethics, the categorical imperative of a moral action in such a situation would definitely rule against treating fellow human beings simply as a means to an end; instead, the ethical thing to do is to treat them as an end in themselves.

The notion of treating human beings as an end in itself is the core basis of the notion of ‘human dignity’. In this regard, human beings are considered to have an intrinsic value that can never be accounted for through a ‘cost-benefit analysis’ approach (Spinello 2002, p. 621). Subsequently, it is right to emphasize within the realm of Kantian ethics that there is no morality in a cost-benefit analysis that permits pharmaceutical corporations to rake in unjustly high profits from very poor populations facing the risk of being wiped out from the face of the earth by HIV/AIDS. The inherent value of human dignity translates into a call of duty by the companies to provide assistance, even if this means that they will appear to some stakeholders to be operating like charity organizations.

From the point of view of the utilitarian approach, the ethical dilemma of the pharmaceutical companies’ operations in Africa in pursuit of profits would have to be looked at from the point of view of cost-benefit analysis. This would entail assessing the costs that would be incurred if a company sold drugs at a subsidized prices and comparing them with the benefits of that would accrue to the company. At some point, this may entail attempting to assign a value to the lives of all the poor victims who would be affected by the pricing decision. On the basis of this analysis, a decision would be reached at on whether to continue operating on a ‘for-profit’ basis or as a charity organization.

In such a cost-benefit analysis, focus would have to be on ensuring that the potential of losing reputation and endangering the hard-earned market share. Nevertheless, this is a difficult, if not an impossible, undertaking considering the difficulties involved in quantifying the life a human being and attach a monetary value on it. This is because, as noted earlier, the life of a human being ought to be treated as an end in itself and not a means to an end in order to safeguard what is referred to in Kantian ethics as human dignity.

Nevertheless, there are many instances where pharmaceutical companies have used the utilitarian approach to deal with ethical dilemmas. For example, Pfizer, a leading international pharmaceutical company, faced an ethical dilemma after data showed that patients using Celebrex, the firm’s popular and highly profitable painkiller doubled the risk of suffering heart attacks (Dawkins 2005, p. 256). The company used the cost-benefit analysis approach in its decision to refuse to countenance any plans to recall the drug from the market (Dawkins 2005, p. 256).

Final recommendation and justification of the solution to the decision maker’s dilemma

Based on this analysis, it has emerged that it is correct for pharmaceutical companies to earn profits from all the business opportunities that arise in different parts of the world, including the HIV/AIDS-ravaged Africa. Pharmaceutical companies cannot survive without making profits, hence the need to exploit all opportunities that would bring in maximum profits. Without profit-making efforts, no pharmaceutical business would exist in the first place.

Nevertheless, it would be important for the profit-driven companies to extend a hand of benevolence for the sake of nurturing sustainability. With such sustainability in place, the companies would be setting the scene for a better business environment, hence creating room for bigger profits in the future. It would be unsustainable and unethical and imprudent to put short-term huge profits ahead of the lives of the poor HIV/AIDS patients in Africa.

I would largely employ the Confucian ethics to uphold moral disposition and humanness towards the human race. After all, the cardinal moral values that Confucius argued for are more worthy than the huge profits made through sale unsubsidized HIV/AIDS drugs. This is because with the prices of these drugs out of reach of the poor Africans, death would be imminent in the community, and with the HIV/AIDS continues to kill millions of people, there may be no one to sell the drugs to in the continent. Simply put, it is unsustainable to continue accruing more profits from poor countries trying desperately to fight the killer disease. In this case, I would suggest forfeiting the profit-making motive and operating like a charity by heavily subsidizing the drugs until such a time when the spread of the disease has been put under control and the confidence, community values, and human dignity in the African community has been restored. Moreover, in line with the ideas expressed in Confucianism, it is sometimes necessary to give up one’s life if that is what it takes to achieve and uphold cardinal moral values. In the context of the present ethical dilemma, this would translate into the ultimately ethical decision by the stakeholders of pharmaceuticals to risk diminishing the survival of their companies in efforts to uphold the cardinal values of the human community.

This decision is justifiable even from the point of view of Kantian and utilitarian ethics. The Kantian ethics resemble the Confucian ethics by virtue of the element of universality of the moral community. With the aim being the creation of a ‘universal law’, it is clear that the prudent thing for the pharmaceutical companies to do in this regard would be to avoid any actions that may endanger the lives of millions of poor people suffering from a disease that has no cure. In future, the decision not to put profits before human life would form an excellent reference point whenever humanity faces a similar ethical dilemma in future.

The ‘human dignity’ argument prevails over the ‘cost-benefit analysis’ argument in many ways. It is clearly impossible to determine what human life is worth in monetary terms. This indicates the need to suspend the goal of profit-making in order to save lives. In essence, this ethical dilemma demonstrates a case for the need for pharmaceutical companies to maintain a balance between the profit-motive and social responsibility.



Brody, H, 2005, Hooked: Ethics, the Medical Profession, and the Pharmaceutical Industry, Rowman and Littlefield, London.

Cleaton-Jones, P, 2003, ‘An ethical dilemma: Availability of antiretroviral therapy after clinical trials with HIV infected patients are ended’, BMJ. Vol. 314, No. 7084, pp. 887–888.

Dawkins, C, 2005, ‘First to Market: Issue Management Pacesetters and the Pharmaceutical Industry Response to AIDS in Africa’, Business Society, Vol. 44, No. 3, pp. 244-282.

Green, S, 2008, ‘Ethics and The Pharmaceutical Industry’, Australas Psychiatry, Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 158-165.

Scherer, F, 2007, ‘Pricing, Profits, and Technological Progress in the Pharmaceutical Industry’, The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 97-115.

Spinello, R, 2002, ‘Ethics, pricing and the pharmaceutical industry’, Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 11, No. 8, pp. 617-626.


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