Moral Dilemma #3: The Drummer and the Drug Rep

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Few of us are ever faced with making the sort of life-or-death decisions we routinely hear about in the news. Fortunately, most of us are spared from navigating the complex ethical terrain that headline-making cases sometime raise. And yet there are decisions we face everyday that — whether we realize it or not — have very real moral implications.

In Busted Halo’s Moral Dilemmas feature, we hope not only to raise some of these issues for our readers, but also to engage you in helping to resolve them. After going through the story that follows, please tell us through a one-question quiz, linked to at the bottom of the page, what you think is the “right thing to do.”

Already taken the quiz for part 1? Move on to the next step: “The Wrinkle” to our Moral Dilemma.

The Dilemma

After struggling to put herself through college, Kara landed a good job as a drug representative for a large pharmaceutical company. The job required her to travel to doctor’s offices throughout her “territory” in the northeastern part of Washington State and remind physicians about the various medications her company makes and how they benefit patients. Because most of the doctors she deals with are very busy, her visits usually entail a quick hello to the doctor to drop off a few samples of the prescription medications she represents.

Her company built its reputation on a number of very successful drugs used in the fight against AIDS; but recently much of Kara’s job has involved educating doctors on a new antidepressant her company has developed called Serotonix. The drug is very similar to existing medications like Prozac and Zoloft in that it is effective in treating depression and anxiety and it is not addictive. It differs from its competition in that unlike the other drugs in its class, which take four to six weeks to reach full effectiveness, Serotonix works in approximately one week. Of course, like most of the drugs it is similar to, Serotonix is expensive, costing up to $3 per 50mg pill.

The drug has begun to make a huge splash in the marketplace and nearly every doctor she visits asks questions about it and requests samples. The company she works for is more than happy to oblige and reps like Kara are always sent out with more than enough promotional packages of Serotonix to give out to physicians as they see fit.

Different Circles

The last time she saw him, Robert confided that he had struggled with depression for the past few years and had even tried to commit suicide a few times.

On a recent January afternoon, Kara was feeling particularly tired and stopped to get a cup of coffee at a roadside restaurant near the town where she grew up. She saw a familiar face in a booth and recognized that it was Robert, an old acquaintance she hadn’t seen since high school. Back then they ran in different circles; Kara was a good student involved with student council while Robert had played in the school’s drum and bugle corps and generally seemed to hang out with a small group of friends who liked to party a lot. Robert seemed happy to see her and invited Kara to sit down with him for a little while.

They caught each other up on the eight years since they had last seen each other — Robert seemed very impressed by what Kara had accomplished. He told her that he’d dropped out of college after two years to play drums for a Seattle band that seemed poised for big things. They’d had some small success but failed to really take off. After the band broke up two years ago, Robert moved back to their hometown. He had been trying to find another group to latch on to and was working at a Starbucks in the strip mall down the road to make ends meet. They spoke for 30 minutes before Kara had to leave, but she promised to stop in soon to see Robert during one of his shifts.

Make your choice here.
What’s the right thing to do?

Click here to take the quiz.

  • Tell Robert that she could get fired for giving him samples of a prescription medication.
  • Go be with him to make sure he doesn’t try to hurt himself.
  • Offer to drive him to a nearby emergency room and try to get him some help.
  • Cross professional boundaries and ask a doctor she calls on in her job to see Robert for free and perhaps prescribe some medication.
  • Give Robert a few weeks worth of Serotonix samples and see how he reacts.

None of these sound right to you? Want to qualify one of the above answers?

Time for you to decide. What’s the right thing for Kara to do?

Read the results so far.

Coffee Talk

Three days later Kara showed up at the Starbucks and sat with Robert while he was on a break. She was surprised at how excited she was to see him again and loved to hear him talk passionately about music.

Over the next two weeks she visited Robert three more times but while she loved spending time with him, it was also becoming clear to her that he had some real struggles in his life. Other than an older, married sister in Portland, Robert had no family to speak of. He was living hand to mouth and was frustrated at how his life was turning out. The last time she saw him, Robert confided that he had struggled with depression for the past few years and had even tried to commit suicide a few times. It broke her heart to hear him talk about it.

Hanging on the Telephone

The next day Kara picked up the phone and heard Robert crying on the other end. He told her that he felt hopeless and didn’t believe his life would ever get better. Kara tried to calm him down and told him there was help available for what he was going through but Robert said he hadn’t been able to afford health insurance for years and that expensive drugs were out of the question — he could barely pay his rent.

Kara closed her eyes and listened quietly while Robert wept. After a few moments he gathered himself and asked “Do you think those samples you carry in your trunk would do me any good?”

Time for you to decide. What’s the right thing for Kara to do?

Already taken the quiz for part 1? Move on to the next step: “The Wrinkle” to our Moral Dilemma.