Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 6-1-2021


During the final weeks of Professor Dan Gurnon’s CHEM 343 class, students are given the opportunity to present a topic that intersects with the biochemistry knowledge learned over the course of their semester. For my presentation, I chose to explore a specific ethical and moral issue of drug pricing in the bio-pharmaceutical industry. This presentation dives deep into the metabolic functional pathways of Daraprim, a WHO essential medicine and the scandal that surrounds the pricing of the medication. The cost of Daraprim rose from $13.50 to $750 per pill, a 5455% increase for a medication that costs less than $2 to make. I then step back and look at other examples of price gouging in the pharmaceutical industry for example, the $50 to $600 increase in the price of the EpiPen and the $20 to $1,849 increase in the price of Doxycycline. I also compare United States policies to those of other countries and understand how lack of pricing regulations in the pharmaceutical industry makes price gouging a common American phenomenon. Finally, I apply the consequentialist and deontological theories of ethics to these scenarios. The consequentialist theory judges whether or not something is right based on its consequences. The two most common examples of consequentialism are utilitarianism and hedonism. Utilitarianism judges consequences using a “greatest good for the greatest number” standard while Hedonism says something is “good” if the consequence produces pleasure or avoids pain. From the consequentialist perspective, the consequences of price gouging do not follow the rule of the “greatest good for the greatest number.” In fact, the greatest number – the American people – suffer greatly from this system as they are often unable to afford life saving medication. All while a small group – the shareholders – profit immensely. The deontological theory is best understood in contrast to consequentialist theory. This theory judges the morality of choices by criteria different from the state of affairs those choices bring about. At its simplest, the theory holds that some choices cannot be justified by their effects, no matter how morally good their consequences, some choices are morally forbidden. Through deontological reasoning, placing a price tag on a human life and allowing patients to die in favor of financial gain is simply one of those choices that cannot be justified by its effects. By applying these two ethical theories, I make the argument that the standards and practices of the pharmaceutical industry are ethically and morally unjust. This argument is supported by the degree to which price gouging detracts from the quality, cost and objectivity of the healthcare system while also directly contributing to the oppression of low-income and marginalized communities in the United States.


Winner of the 2021 Prindle Prize for Ethics in STEM