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Dow Corning and the Silicone Breast Implants

In: Business and Management

Submitted By ajsmommy1
Words 1843
Pages 8
Business Ethics
22 November 2011
Dow Corning and the Silicone Breast Implants The pressures society places on women’s physical appearances can and often has created a psychological weakness on many women’s state of mind and physical well-being. On average people spend in excess of seven billion dollars per year on plastic surgery. The obsession American women have come to believe is normal concerning their physical beauty drives women to plastic surgeons by the millions each year. Women like Selma Hayek, Pamela Anderson, and Dolly Parton are all in essence physical role models for the average woman. Many companies have created products that are used to enhance the female physic from the inside out. This writing will explore the lengths a company will go to in order to gain profit from women who are desperate to enhance their physical appearance. In addition, the ethical practices of a certain company that were set aside to maintain revenues and side step litigation are examined within this paper. The Dow Corning Corporation was once thought to be a stellar company in terms of its ethical business practices. The Dow Corning Corporation was established in 1897 by a Canadian Chemist named Herbert Henry Dow (Dow Corning Breast Implants, 2011). Dow Corning Corporation rapidly became one of the few major manufacturing producers that made silicone products. Considering the fact that the Dow Corning Corporation is the second largest manufacturer of chemicals in the world and the greatest producer of plastic products; logically, the offering of silicone breast implants was inevitable when women began seeking reconstructive and enhancement surgery. Although, with great success comes the opportunity for greed to rear its ugly head. An attempt to avoid fiscal disaster was made by Dow Corning Corporation when evidence was gradually presented over several years that the highly sought after silicone breast implants could be dangerous to women’s health. The Dow Corning Corporation was one of the first American companies to instill a “Business Conduct Committee,” (Singer, 1994. n.p.). The exemplary “Business Conduct Committee” that was put in place in the 1970s, was regarded as a model within the industry that other business strove to achieve. The Dow Corning Corporation performed worldwide audits with its employees revealing that upward of 90% of its employees perceived the company’s practices to be exceptionally ethical. The introduction of the silicone breast implant occurred in 1963 by the Dow Corning Corporation; considering the day and age, no standards were in place to ensure the safety of this product. However, some states had already banned the injection of silicone straight into the breast tissue.
According to the Chicago Tribune (1997), “There were early warnings that implants might be problematic. Internal company memos reported liquid silicone “bleeding” through the implants.” Despite the fact that plastic surgeons criticized that the silicone implants burst effortlessly and had an oily feel to them; the Dow Corning Corporation ignored these issues. Gladwell (1992) brings to light internal Dow Corning Corporation memos, one stating, “In a 1978 memo, a company salesman in the Detroit area reported that four plastic surgeons were experiencing ruptures about 15 percent of the time while implanting what was then a new kind of silicone implant.” In addition, long-term negative health results were documented in studies done on animals injected with the silicone used to manufacturer these breast implants; this information was also discounted by the Dow Corning Corporation. The silicone breast implants were presented to the United States Food and Drug Administration as a medical apparatus used for reconstructive surgery following mastectomies. During the time frame when silicone breast implants were first presented, there were no requirements for long-term testing for safety reasons. However, the Dow Corning Corporation along with other silicone breast implant producers sold the products to plastic surgeons regardless of the reasons they were implanted. A California recipient of silicone breast implants filed a lawsuit against the Dow Corning Corporation in 1984 and was awarded $1.5 million in punitive damages when the jury realized that findings of studies performed on animals at an earlier time was distorted during litigations. As stated by Singer (1994), “The judge had noted that the company’s own studies “cast considerable doubt on the safety of the product,” the results of which were not disclosed to patients.” The reputation of the once ethically sound company (The Dow Corning Corporation) was tarnished beyond repair. The United States Food and Drug Administration finally demanded a suspension of the use of all silicone breast implants in January of 1992. The Dow Corning Corporation made a conscious decision not to halt the manufacturing of silicone breast implants until nearly 12,000 lawsuits were pending early in 1994. Yet another major verdict was handed down to a silicone breast implant patient named Marianne Hopkins who brought legal proceeding against the ethically challenged company in December 1991. According to Stauber & Rampton (2004), the jury “found Dow Corning guilty of fraud, oppression and malice with damages of $7.4 million.” The question stands to reason, why did the Dow Corning Corporation take so long to react to the first major lawsuit in 1984? It seems that the company thought that if they were to stop the manufacturing of the defective silicone breast implants it could be construed as an admission that their product was, in fact, harmful and possibly promote additional lawful proceedings. Many people wonder where the infamous “Business Conduct Committee” was during the initial stages of this travesty against women’s health. The company that had but two shareholders, Dow Chemical and Corning, Incorporated; was the company believed to be untouchable because of its leading silicone advances in the field of plastic surgery? Sessions of the “Business Conduct Committee” were held in the company’s South Africa and Europe locations in an effort to educate its employees on the issues of business conduct. Evidence displays that these sessions were needed more among the executives of the Dow Corning Corporation rather than its lower-level employees. The only undeviating associate of the Dow Corning Corporation’s “Business Conduct Committee” was John E. Swanson; Swanson was employed with the company for more than 26 years and believed that he was aware of any shady dealings in which the company may have participated. Singer (1994) stated, “By March 1992, the common view of the company in the public mind was that its devices were not safe, that it had covered up evidence about their safety, that it was insensitive, and that its actions amounted to a 30-year medical experiment on women who were uninformed as to the risks.” The Dow Corning Corporations decided it was time for a changing of the guard; the Chief Executive Officer, Reed, was relegated and replaced with Keith R. McKennon from the Dow Chemical Company in 1992. McKennon was considered to be talented with the type of crisis the Dow Corning Corporation was faced with, a grand media event. McKennon took a position of compassion and was present in the public eye, offering interviews and proclaiming a $10 million research curriculum to seek out answers to the scientific and health questions put forth by the sorted affairs that had recently come to light. This changing of the guard was accompanied by a public relations plan intended to perform damage control to the company’s bottom line. A public relations company, Burson-Marsteller, hired by the Dow Corning Corporation, generated a public relations plan for silicone breast implants. Stauber & Rampton (2004) wrote, Burson-Marstellar stated, “the combination of human suffering, large financial awards, big business and big medicine represent a potentially volatile media situation for the company.” This statement was part of an analysis named “Silicone Medical Implants as a Public Issue.”
Although, in the end Dow Corning Corporation did decide to stop the manufacturing of silicone breast implants altogether. The Dow Corning Corporation, which was once viewed in the public eye as ethically sound, has faced numerous trials and tribulations over the past 40-plus years because of the need to protect its revenues that were once catapulted by these silicone breast implants. However, the outcome of the deviant, deceptive behavior Dow Corning Corporation has displayed throughout the silicone breast implant crisis warranted the results of billions of dollars paid to tens of thousands of women for their pain and suffering. Furthermore, expenses for the removal of the known defective implants and future medical bills for illnesses and disease thought to be caused by these implants are the reward of the Dow Corning Corporation’s unwillingness to rectify and prevent this atrocious situation from having escalated to epic proportions. The Dow Corning Corporation has with stood the test of time financially, remaining one of the largest chemical companies in the world that offers a wide range of products to its 25,000 customers for a broad spectrum of uses. However, silicone breast implants is not a product the Dow Corning Corporation offers.
Proper business ethics are critical for the survival of companies both small and large. In today’s society the consumer is at the mercy of a business to perform services and supply products in a manner that is based on the highest of ethical standards. In addition, businesses are also in turn, at the mercy of the consumer to bring his or her hard earned monies to support these businesses. Although the Dow Corning Corporation has survived the silicone breast implant crisis, many companies in today’s world would not have held up to the scrutiny and fiscal obligations brought on by unethical business practices. The millions of women who entrusted their health to the products the Dow Corning Corporation in the way of silicone breast implants put their faith in a company that was displayed as morally and ethically upstanding. The question still remains whether or not the Dow Corning Corporation “made good” on its deviant behavior; society can be certain of one thing when it comes to elective surgery, it is now as it has always been in the past, consumers must always heed the proverb known as “buyer beware.”

Works Cited
Breast-Plastic-Surgery.Org. Dow Corning Breast Implants. 2011. Web. 18 Nov. 2011. <>.
Gladwell, Malcom. n.p.. The Tech. Dow Corning Papers Show Fears of Implant Problems. 1992. Web. 18 Nov. 2011. <>.
Singer, Andrew, W. n.p.. ETHIKOS and Corporate Conduct Quarterly. In Breast Implants Scandal, Where Was Dow Corning’s Concern for Women. 1994. Web 19 Nov. 2011. <>. Stauber, J.C., S. Rampton. n.p. Confidence Game: Burson-Marsteller’s PR Plan for Silicone Breast Implants. 2004. Web. 20 Nov. 2011. <>.
Swanson, John E. Chicago Tribune. Exposing A Corporate Cover-up. 1997. Web. 20 Nov. 2011.

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