“We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services. We are responsible to the communities in which we live and work and to the world community as well. ” This is an excerpt from the credo of Johnson & Johnson. On September 30, 1982, in Chicago area, seven people were killed when they ingested Tylenol, a painkiller produced by McNeil Labs, a division of Johnson & Johnson. The Tylenol in query was found to have been introduced with cyanide.
An extensive investigation after several weeks proved that the poisonings were the consequence of external sabotage. The United States Food and Drug Administration had issued a caution not to take Tylenol, but the government had not ordered the company to take any definite action. Possibly the deaths would be local, and there would not be more than seven. Perhaps a provisional cessation of sales in anticipation of the source of the contamination was determined could thwart more damage to the public. Maybe the authorities would not require a recall.
In opposition to all these unknowns, the Johnson & Johnson executives had to weigh numerous certainties: A recall would entail a loss of up to $100 million; news of a recall could so dent the product that Tylenol might on no account be able to regain public confidence and its 37 percent of market share; the loss was not covered by insurance; the news and loss would definitely result in a dramatic drop in the company's stock -- did in fact go down 15 percent in the first week of October; the competition in the analgesic market was tight and fierce; rival companies would try to make Tylenol's loss their gain.
These were certainties; the rest was assumption and guesswork. But, disinclined to expose consumers to additional risk -- and making a pronouncement that puts them in the Ethics Hall of Fame --Johnson & Johnson ordered a recall of all Tylenol disposed in the market. In the long run, public welfare and the company's reputation were protected by ethical decision making. (Bayer, 2002) Ethical Issues Involved The Tylenol case clearly presents a leading case of ethical reasoning.
However ethical issues, large and small, present themselves every day. The executives of Johnson & Johnson need methods for dealing with them and arriving at reasonable decisions. The company incorporates the wisdom contained in their business’ ethical responsibilities through a personalist approach. The ethical issue on the value of universal obligation was considered for equal human dignity. Hence, the judgment on ultimate impact of utilitarianism on actual human beings was reached and realized.
However, personalism surpasses these approaches by actually filling out the notion of human beings and their innate dignity. The Tylenol case helps us to perceive the ethical issues concerned were established based on the personalist ethical decision making put into practice. The company’s decision was well-matched with their social accountability to protect persons, whose inimitable value is fathomless. Human beings were put prior to things, and in this case, money.
This invaluable action was unswerving with the protection of human dignity, and consequently the recall was a suitable exercise of managerial sovereignty. Given our temperament as shortsighted creatures and morally inconsistent, there was unquestionably the temptation to do otherwise. Johnson and Johnson sheltered our material nature. They acknowledged their social responsibility and obligation. Since they, too, were morally inconsistent and fragile, they could have selected otherwise, but did not. Spiritually, they preserved the public's trust.
Johnson & Johnson’s recognized fundamental equality by not putting their own welfare and interest above others. As a whole, they chose the deed that most led to the promotion and protection of human dignity. (Rainbow, 2002) It is an immense relief to moralists and ethicists and -- and a source of deep contentment that Johnson & Johnson fared so well in the long run in the wake of its extremely ethical actions. “Ethical behavior can be consistent with not only surviving but also thriving in the business world. ” (Bayer, 2002)