31 January 2004

Ethics for the Life Science Company: Old Traditions Meet the Brave New World

Mondaq: Ethics for the Life Science Company: Old Traditions Meet the Brave New World:

Goodwin Procter LLP

In these post-Enron times, ethics – especially corporate ethics – has become a buzzword in the business community. Ethical inquiries into what is "right" for a business and what is "good" are no longer simple academic exercises. Instead, as corporate ethics comes under increasing public scrutiny, doing well in business tends to include both doing what’s right and doing what’s good.

Only if ethical questions are asked, then, can a company decide how it wishes to respond to them. Only if a company thinks through the ethical aspects of its actions can it design policies to prevent or solve ethical problems. Such policies are increasingly important, with ethics assuming such a prominent place in public concern. The mere perception of unethical behavior can damage a company’s reputation and its position in the marketplace. And life science companies are held to a higher ethical standard than other businesses. Because their endeavors affect life itself, society charges these companies with responsible stewardship. To fulfill these responsibilities, companies in the life sciences industry need proactively to incorporate ethics into their institutional structure so that they can anticipate and avoid ethical problems, not just solve them. Traditional methods of bioethical analysis can help even the most innovative company in such tasks.

Companies in the life sciences face the same corporate ethics concerns as other businesses. In addition, though, the very nature of the life sciences industry entails an additional level of ethical reflection. Life sciences companies concern themselves with technologies derived from and relating to life itself, whether on the nano-level or the macro-level. These companies hence have to reckon with matters of bioethics as well as business ethics. Companies in this industry are generally young and fast-growing, fueled by fast-paced scientific discovery. Technological development can thus outpace corporate introspection, so that a company’s ethical principles and policies become implemented only as afterthoughts, when legal or public relations problems crop up.

This article, which may be considered advertising under the ethical rules of certain jurisdictions, is provided with the understanding that it does not constitute the rendering of legal advice or other professional advice by Goodwin Procter LLP or its attorneys. © 2004 Goodwin Procter LLP. All rights reserved.

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