March 16, 2009
The New York Times reported on March 3rd that a Harvard Medical School professor and a full-time member of the Harvard Medical faculty was also a paid consultant to 10 drug companies. The dean announced the creation of a 10-member committee to re-examine the school's conflict- of- interest policies. The financial interaction of the pharmaceutical industry with universities is critical. The issue is to make sure that these interactions do not compromise the academic integrity of institutions.
Many books, theses and conferences have addressed the issue of conflicts- of- interest. Google has 28,300,000 entries about conflicts-of-interest. Most corporations include conflict-of-interest in the code of ethics.
The business dictionary defines conflict- of- interest as a:
"Situation that has the potential to undermine the impartiality of a person because of the possibility of a clash between the person's self-interest and professional-interest or public-interest."
Certain professionals such as judges, politicians, physicians and public relation executives are particularly exposed to conflictions- of- interest situations. These professionals exercise power on the lives of others. They can be therefore tempted to exercise that power to their personal advantage.
However we all can face conflicts of interest in both our private and professional lives because we have many interests and limited resources and options. Ethics is very often about dealing with conflicts between legitimate values, in "right versus right" situations.
What are the tools that can help us resolve these issues? It is never easy and each situation has its own challenges.
Below are some ideas or guidelines that can help us resolve a conflict-of-interest situation.
1. Disclosure or Transparency:
We should disclose a potential conflict-of-interest to the parties involved. They will better determine if such a situation exists.
We should consider removing ourselves from the decision making process in a potential conflict-of- interest situation.
3. Third party evaluation:
We should consult with people of experience that we trust and that are completely independent and that have no stake in the issue.
We should inquire from legal counsel whether the action we are about to take is legal.
Clement Stone, the author and founder of EON, once said:
"Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity."
He lived to be hundred years old!