The three primary articles this week focused on some very similar issues in terms of the relationships between doctors and sales representatives from pharmaceutical firms and they raise some interesting issues.
First of all, it seems difficult to draw a nice tidy line around what is providing information and what is marketing. It would seem that any argument would need to be “sold” in a certain sense. How then can we picture a morally non-problematic way of promoting the use of drug “A” over drug “B” for a particular condition? It seems that unless it is obvious what drug is “better” (that is it is the most cost effective, least side effects, most reliable, etc.) it seems the doctor is in a problematic situation. If having a pen from a pharmaceutical firm throws his motives into question, then it seems difficult (from the perspective of the critic) to believe he accepted to use drug “A” out of a concern for the patient.
Without being overly pessimistic about the honestly and competence of most doctors, it seems difficult to separate what is manipulation and what is exchanging information. If we begin by assuming the worst of pharmaceutical firms and doctors it all ends up looking like manipulation. On the other hand, we cannot entirely leave economic interests aside when considering what is going on at these meetings. How then do we begin to separate what is marketing and what is a genuine cooperation in pursuit of “the truth?”