The Luxury of Expecting Morality

In any given day, I expect two things: for me to be a reasonably “moral” agent to others; and for others to behave in a reasonably “moral” way towards me. Hence, while wary of the occasional “bad person,” I do not expect on a given day to be mugged, deceived, seriously hurt or taken advantage of. I also do not expect to do these things to others.

Yet, as I did the Petryna reading about how the poor in some countries are (often willingly) exploited by Pharmaceutical companies, it struck me: this expectation I have of “morality” (both in terms of my own and others’ behaviors) is a luxury. Most people cannot afford, quite literally. to expect those around them to be truly moral agents. Many in developing nations, because of their poverty, have grown accustomed to deception, disregard for harms done to them, and others taking advantage of their poverty. This explains why they poor are so often exploited, and also why many in poverty are driven to desperate, at times immoral, acts others would not do. This leads to a troubling conclusion: one’s expectations for moral behavior are largely dependent on financial circumstance.

Why do I mention all this? Adriana Petryna writes that pharmaceutical companies’ “ethics and method are modified to fit the local context” (24). This position needs clarification. I think things like legal recourse, safety risks, or protection from Pharma deception would matter to clinical trials participants in poorer nations. However, these people are probably so desensitized to having people around them run roughshod over their lives, and are so desperate to have their ailments treated,  that expectations for acceptable behavior change. Indeed, for many, Pharmaceutical companies may be amongst the most “ethical” entities they encounter on a daily basis: how scary is that thought?

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