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The question of whether direct-to-consumer advertising should be allowed or restricted is hotly debated. Supporters of this mode of drug advertising term it as beneficial to the consumers since it educates them on a variety of illnesses and all the possible drugs available to treat them. The opponents, on the other hand, argue that these adverts lead to self-diagnosis among the patients, are misleading, and are totally unethical. The ethicality of this form of drug advertising from Kant’s categorical imperative deontological approach depends on the intentions of the manufacturers. This paper argues whether direct to consumer promotion of pharmaceutical drugs is ethical from Kant’s categorical imperative deontological point of view.

Unethical Perspective

According to Jones (306), pharmaceutical drugs advertising has always been done through a ‘detailing promotion’ approach, in which the drugs are advertised by the manufacturer to the physicians or doctors directly. Jones further asserts that this mode of promotion has been the mainstay pharmaceutical drugs advertising criteria all over the world, except in the United States and New Zealand. These two nations permit a relatively free direct-to-consumer advertising, in which case manufacturers are allowed to directly advertise their pharmaceuticals to patients through mainstream media outlets.

Ethical concerns have arisen about this direct-to-consumer advertising given that it tends to unduly influence the drug prescription demands to suit the customers’ demands rather than what is medically necessary. According Ashcroft, Dawson, Draper, and McMillan (74), deontological ethics requires that the ethicality of an act should be dependent upon the duty to perform what is morally right and refrain from performing what is morally wrong irrespective of the consequences. In this respect, people have a duty to carry out certain actions and not to carry out other actions irrespective of how much good such an action might bring.

The duty of doing certain things and refraining from others is guided by the moral law asserted in Kant’s categorical imperative approach towards deontological ethics. Ashcroft et al (76) claim that this approach towards deontological ethics considers actions as unethical and immoral if they can not be applied to all people. The applicability of actions to all people is judged by examining their nature and the will of the agents in perpetrating them and not necessarily on the goals achieved.

This argument provides sufficient grounds to rule out direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceuticals as unethical and immoral. Fist of all, this form of drug advertising lacks the element of universality, making it incapable of being applied to all people. The fact that it is being carried out by manufacturers in two countries alone raises doubts about its applicability in others. According to Ashcroft, Dawson, Draper, and McMillan (76), whenever an action lacks this universal applicability element, it becomes unacceptable irrespective of whether its outcome is good or not.

Secondly, Ashcroft, Dawson, Draper, and McMillan (76) have argued that the categorical imperative deontological approach requires that humanity should never be treated as a means but rather as an end. This point of view raises several doubts on the manufacturers’ real intention of carrying out the direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceutical drugs. One can ask himself/herself whether the manufacturers wanted to provide genuine information to the patients or were they using them to make profits through increased sales. Jain argues that this form of advertising of pharmaceutical drugs directly to patients is only the means of influencing self-diagnosis in the patients so that they can buy more of the drugs (45).

To a greater extent, Jain’s assertion is true given that manufacturers have simply been using the patients as a means to an end and not as an end to a means. Jain further avers that the side affects of these drugs are never clearly mentioned and, in some instances, such drugs are never the best cure for the diseases they are said to treat (45). This act of using patients as means makes direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceutical drugs unethical.

Ethical Perspective

Direct-to-consumer advertising, on the other hand, cannot be totally ruled out as unethical if the real intention of the manufacturer is for the goodwill of the patients. Ashcroft, Dawson, Draper, and McMillan have argued that in Kant’s categorical imperative deontology, the morality of actions is based on good will or pure will of the perpetrator (74). The manufactures of these pharmaceutical drugs claim that they are advertising them directly to the patients so as to educate them on the various types of illnesses and the possible drugs for their treatment. This act of good will ensures that patients are informed and, therefore, can pursue better healthcare options. This act of good will makes direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceutical drugs ethical.


In conclusion, the consequences of direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceutical drugs can rule it out as unethical. Doctors have criticized this approach as leading to self-diagnosis among patients, presenting false prescriptions to the patients and not having the patient at heart but merely using him as a means. Kant’s categorical imperative approach views acts that cannot be universally applicable as unacceptable irrespective of their end results. In this ethical approach, acts should be carried out because they are the right things to be done. Keeping patients informed about diseases and their possible cures is ethically right, but employing it as a means of using the patients to attain profits is ethically wrong. Due to this fact, this paper concludes that advertising of pharmaceutical drugs directly to patients is unethical.

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