Sunday, May 18, 2008


When Dr. Robert Jarvik agreed to appear in commercials for Pfizer's cholesterol-lowering medication, Lipitor, some people felt that it was misleading because, while he has a medical degree, Jarvik is not licensed to practice medicine. So Pfizer recently dropped Jarvik as the medication's spokesman. I asked readers if the company made the right decision in dropping Jarvik.

"He did nothing unethical," writes Carroll Straus of Orange County, Calif.

Helen Homer of Santa Ana, Calif., agrees.

"Removing Dr. Jarvik from the ad was unnecessary," Homer writes.

Bill Wotring of Fullerton, Calif., has "no problem with the Lipitor ads showing an endorsement by Dr. Jarvik," he writes. "I found them informative and professional ... It is the reputation and endorsement of someone who knows something about hearts which make the ad credible."

On the other hand, George Zahka of Bradenton Beach, Fla., is glad that Jarvik is no longer with Pfizer, finding it "demeaning that the man who invented the artificial heart would lower himself and the profession by touting a product, as good as it may be."

Finally I received a long response from Jarvik himself.

"In my opinion Pfizer was wrong to capitulate to political pressure and the unfavorable publicity it generated," Jarvik writes. "The Lipitor ad campaign was truthful and tasteful. I believe it motivated hundreds of thousands of new patients to see their doctors, patients who never before had treatment for their high cholesterol. Many heart attacks and strokes will be prevented, and many people will avoid the disaster that otherwise awaited them."

Read Jarvik's full response, Check out other opinions here, or post your own or post your own by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mr. Seglin- I don't know if it's coincidence or not, but "Ring of Fire" was discussing Dr. Jarvik tonight, in relation to the situation of drug companies marketing to the public instead of to doctors. Re: the ethics of Pfizer and Dr. Jarvik, I'd say they both were lacking. 1) Dr. Jarvik is not an MD, but the commercials did nothing to indicate that he was not.
Deliberately misleading. Do you think Pfizer knew he wasn't an MD? Of course they did. 2) I recall Dr. Jarvik referring to prescribing Lipitor for his patients. If my memory is accurate he was claiming something he couldn't do, prescribe drugs for patients. Pfizer knew (or at the least, SHOULD have known) that was the case. 3)Finally, (and I don't know this is the case) per "Ring of Fire", Dr. Jarvik had a hand in inventing the artificial heart, but he didn't do it alone, and colleagues say he didn't have a major role in its invention. That one I don't know about, and it
*is* called the Jarvik 7.

Bottom line, in my opinion, they BOTH acted unethically, and Pfizer was only doing some corporate CYA by dropping Jarvik as their
spokesperson. John Tripp