Column: On America and ethics

By Jenette Sturges

I’ve been writing here for a semester now, and little has changed. If anything, despite consistent banter on this page denouncing the irresponsible actions of multiple entities – governments, world leaders, and college students – the world seems to be filled with more corruption and bickering than ever. The latest example comes not from our governments’ actions in a faraway desert, but from a corporation on our own soil.

As hearings continued this week investigating the involvement of the arthritis pain-reliever Vioxx in a series of fatal heart attacks, The New England Journal of Medicine published damaging evidence that Merck & Co., Inc., the developers of Vioxx, actually knew about the potential fatality of the drug. The Journal alleges that Merck deleted data recorded during the biggest study of Vioxx previous to its inclusion in their publication that included three additional heart attacks suffered by Vioxx users.

It had been previously assumed that the publishers of the New England Journal had omitted the data, but the recent discovery of a disk by the editors of the publication seems to prove that Merck had actively erased the damning information.

While Merck has yet to release their side of the story, the pharmaceutical giant would be guilty of knowingly selling a drug that increases the chance of heart attack by five times should the allegations be proven true – adding themselves to the top of the ever-growing pile of shady American corporations out to make money at the expense of the well-being of the public.

Obviously, this is wrong. But yet again, it has fallen below the radar as the rest of the country concerns itself with which phrase is more socially acceptable to greet customers in December and whether or not we should be teaching unfounded claims in science class simply because some people think they are true.

So what’s the connection between the actions of one drug company and the ongoing struggle between religious conservatives and secularists in our country? It’s a question of morals.

The actions of Merck are just further examples of the lack of moral guidance in the U.S. – a startling trend considering the seemingly endless debates of morality between the religious right and secularists that infest every aspect of the US these days.

But America is far from godless. Approximately 80 percent of Americans consider themselves Christian. Our president admits to going to war in Iraq because God told him to. But while the dominant faith in our country is centered around morality and loving thy brother, corruption in our governments, corporations and leaders is being buried under a lot of religious-right rhetoric. We argue over whether man descends from monkeys, but not over the responsibility that drug companies have to develop safe, affordable drugs.

The ongoing dialogue between the religious right and everyone else is not necessarily wrong, just misguided. Instead of talking about how to greet each other at the store, we should be establishing standards of morality and ethics that are universal to Americans of any faith (or lack thereof).

Merck was wrong, but they knew that America was too apathetic and too misguided to notice what they were hiding – and 600 near-fatalities were the result.

If there’s anything I’ve learned this past semester though, it is this – conservatives and liberals share more commonalities than differences. Both sides of the aisle, Christian or not, will be enraged at the actions of the Merck corporation, because, for the most part, both conservative and liberal leaders who choose to serve by representing us in government care for the people of this country. They just have different ideas of what is best for everyone.

But the concealment of testing on Vioxx is further evidence that our country needs to move in a new direction: neither a Christian theocracy nor a place where it is permissible to doing anything for a buck, but a country of ethics and genuine concern for our fellow American.

Jenette Sturges is a junior in LAS. She will be the Deputy Opinions Editor during the Spring semester of 2006. She can be reached at [email protected]