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HARNESSING THE HEART - PART 11
Living Up to the Challenge of Conscience in Daily Life

Harnessing the Heart
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Dear Reader, in this series, we offer you real life stories from contemporary heroes who have demonstrated the courage to follow their conscience when confronted with difficult dilemmas or challenging circumstances in their daily lives. This segment is an ode to the strength of the brave-hearts who chose to listen to the voice of their conscience, thereby abiding by the values of Right Conduct, Truth, Love, Peace and Non-violence, even though the choice had appeared tough.

In our previous issues, we brought you inspiring stories from Mrs. Priya K-Alldis, Mr. Dev Taneja, Mr. C. B. S. Mani, Mr. Karthik Ramesh, Mr. Amar Vivek, Mr. Krish Venkatasubramaniam, Mr. Hiten Morarji, Mr. N. Prabhakar, Mr. Sathya Jambunathan and Mr. U. Pardha Saradhi. (Click here to go to Harnessing Archives)

We now bring you a high-octane moral dilemma from a person who has been working in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries for over 25 years. She has held senior management positions with leading pharmaceutical biotechnology companies in North America heading regulatory affairs, clinical affairs and quality compliance departments. In addition, she established and co-owned a pharmaceutical scientific laboratory which later became one of the leading scientific laboratories in North America. Currently she is responsible for the Clinical Compliance activities of one of world’s leading multinational pharmaceutical companies in the world. Outside of her professional and family time, she dedicates her energy and resources to Sathya Sai educational and other community service activities. The author endeavours to practice human values in every aspect of her professional and personal life.

THE PULL OF MAMMON Vs THE POWER OF MORALITY
…A powerful story of a lady who had the tenacity
to tread the path of Truth

Through her excellent interpersonal skills and scientific expertise, the author was recognised for outstanding contribution in the pharmaceutical sector. She earned herself a reputation for the highest ethical and professional standards. That was until she faced a moral quagmire when she took up a lucrative position with a new company, only to find that the venture was tuned exclusively towards quick profit making, by compromising quality and regulatory standards.

By falsifying scientific data, the company hoped to fast track the approval for marketing a new drug product. At stake were millions of dollars worth of research funding, millions more from its likely sale, the life-threatening risks to millions of innocent lives that would be exposed to the medication, and most importantly, the violation of her conscience, that revolted against a corporate agenda focused on instant profits, regardless of the safety of the drugs being marketed.

According to an estimate, in 2007 alone, the top 5 pharmaceutical companies made a profit of about $600 billion. Each year, thousands of drugs are presented to the United States Food and Drug Administration or the USFDA for approval by pharmaceutical research companies. Once approved, the products hit the marketing channels, reaping in the profits. Driven by market forces and stiff competition, the race to the finishing line could potentially be influenced by greed at all costs, including moral and human. An industry veteran shares her story.

The Standards of Success

“In the year 2006, I accepted the position as the Head of Regulatory and Clinical Affairs of a pharmaceutical company in a large metro in North America. It was a relatively small firm, but I felt confident that I could make a huge and positive difference in the organisation based on my previous achievements. The main reason for accepting the position was the close proximity of the company to my home and to my children’s school.

The company’s President knew my reputation as a successful employee at my previous job. He was keen to have me on board as part of the core executive team to build the company. I was enthusiastic to apply my skill-set and experience for the success of the company. It seemed like a win-win situation.

Entering a Moral Quagmire

Being a disciplined worker, I applied myself whole-heartedly to my work from day one. Within the first month of my employment, I began to sense some disconcerting trends at my workplace. There seemed to be some problems and discrepancies with the authenticity of scientific documents for a new drug that was being developed to seek market authorisation in North America and Europe.

Being responsible for the regulatory compliance of the organisation, I checked all the documents prepared by the Research and Development, and Quality Assurance departments, as a part of the review process for the regulatory submission.

It didn’t take me long to find irregularities in the scientific documentation. The information presented in the documentation for regulatory submission was not consistent with the actual raw data generated during the quality control testing. There was clear evidence of falsification of records by responsible scientific personnel.

The thought of exposing thousands of patients to a drug that is not safe and effective was unnerving and totally against my ethical beliefs. Naturally, my alarm bells went off and I felt it was my duty to take the issue to the top management.

Mismanagement from the Top

Harnessing the Heart
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I brought the matter to the attention of the company’s president, expressing my grave concern citing specific examples of the counterfeit scientific data. I urged him against submitting the questionable information to the regulators.

I recommended that we reformulate and make new batches of drug product with acceptable quality standards for use in the clinical trial. ‘Let us discard the previous batch and start the scientific data collection from a clean slate’, I advised.

He pretended to be listening to my concerns but, continued with his meetings with the key personnel from Research and Development and Quality Assurance Departments without my presence. Subsequent to his meetings, he informed me that there was really nothing wrong with the scientific data, and insisted that it was acceptable for regulatory submission.

Using clever logic and smart talk, he tried to assuage my concerns and brush off any suggestions of irregularities. My idea of going back to start over was not welcome for obvious reasons that it will delay the marketing approval, and in turn, cause a loss of millions of dollars of revenue for the company.

During the subsequent weeks, additional paperwork was being forwarded to the regulatory affairs department and I assigned the responsibilities of compiling and reviewing of the documents to my staff. Independent of my view, one of the regulatory specialists in my department noticed conflicting scientific information provided by the Research and Development department for the regulatory submission, and she immediately brought her concerns to my attention. There were multiple discrepancies indicating questionable scientific data throughout the documentation provided for regulatory submission.

 

During my routine meetings with the president of the company, I brought forward all of the concerns relating to the falsification of documents again and again. He continued to pretend as if he was concerned, but nothing was being done to correct or improve the situation. These unethical and immoral actions started to affect my morale, personality and health.

When the regulatory specialist questioned the person in-charge of R&D about the errors in the documents, he immediately attempted to alter the records in the presence of the regulatory specialist. She was in deep shock to see the fraudulent actions by a responsible individual and alerted me immediately showing the altered documents. I immediately met with the head of R&D and confronted him with the evidence of fraudulent incidents. I explained to him about the negative impact of his actions including regulatory actions, health and safety of consumers and the reputation of the organisation. He did not appear to be much worried about the ethics and consumer impact of his fraudulent actions, since he had the support of other key personnel in the organisation.

During my routine meetings with the president of the company, I brought forward all of the concerns relating to the falsification of documents again and again. He continued to pretend as if he was concerned, but nothing was being done to correct or improve the situation. These unethical and immoral actions started to affect my morale, personality and health.

In the meantime, the company was also working on getting market authorisation in Europe for a few other new drug products formulated for treating other illnesses. Due to questionable track records, regulatory affairs personnel scrutinized every document received from the R&D and Quality Assurance departments. Regulatory staff noted several other questionable entries in various documents clearly indicating that the problem was rampant.

As calmly as I possibly could, once again, I met the president and pointed to him that obvious mistakes had been made and I was personally prepared to help the company succeed by going back to the drawing board and starting all over again. I had enough experience in the area and was confident that the company could successfully get the product approved for marketing by diligently following due procedures. I had done so throughout my career and it was possible to achieve the same here as well.

The product was sound and was sure to be approved and capable of bringing us profits by following an ethical route. It was clear from his gesture that the president was not thrilled about going back to the drawing board to rescue the product since it would translate in a delay in product approval, and thus, loss of income to the company and the share holders.

A Troubled Conscience Leads to Misery

The unsettling situation at work was wreaking havoc on my health – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. I felt an inner violation by being a part of the set-up where my concerns for following the right path to business success were being totally ignored. Being a calm and patient person by nature, it was becoming obvious to me, and those close to me noticed that I was becoming more restless, irritable and impatient in my behaviour. I found myself acting and reacting out of character. I was reflecting the disturbances of my work environment. I was at a cross-road in my life where everything seemed to be clashing. My personal and ethical values were at war with my work environment.

I often stopped and thought about what had been happening using my discrimination. I acted according to my conscience by revealing untruthful and deceitful actions. In an effort to steer the company in the right direction, I provided options and advice to conduct business in an ethical manner. I clearly communicated the consequences of committing acts of fraud. My conscience was surely in sync with my rooted values, even though the work environment was out of line with my ethical values.

 

I often stopped and thought about what had been happening using my discrimination. I acted according to my conscience by revealing untruthful and deceitful actions. In an effort to steer the company in the right direction, I provided options and advice to conduct business in an ethical manner. I clearly communicated the consequences of committing acts of fraud. My conscience was surely in sync with my rooted values, even though the work environment was out of line with my ethical values.

Obviously, I spent considerable time praying to Bhagavan Baba for guidance, courage, and a sense of direction on how to handle my situation. An inner debate was raging all the time and my restlessness was hard to ignore. Soul searching, sleeplessness, self-doubt and inner conflict continued to plague me. Everyday, I came home feeling very stressed and could barely focus on my family. My blood pressure shot up and I found it hard to force myself to go to work and turn a blind eye to the fraud going on right under my nose.

I kept questioning myself as to how Swami would expect me to handle the situation. Soon I realised that I had tried every possible means to correct the unethical activities going on and had done everything in my power to influence a positive change in the situation. I had sought meetings with all the key players in the company to express my serious concern and to warn them of the possible consequences to the organisation if they continued with their deceptive activities and sham practices.

The Moment of Truth Dawns

After having satisfied my inner self that I had left no stone unturned to rectify the situation and steer the company on the right path, I realised it was time for me to face my moment of truth. When I arrived home, I sat in front of Baba’s altar and fully surrendered to Him for His guidance on my next action. As I meditated I felt very strong and positive about the actions that I took during the past several months based on my strong ethical principles. I felt that the only choice for me was to leave the company immediately. So I decided to meet with my family to discuss my decision. I was worried about the reaction from my family members about loosing a six figure salary that we all had been enjoying!

After having satisfied my inner self that I had left no stone unturned to rectify the situation and steer the company on the right path, I realised it was time for me to face my moment of truth.

I told my family what I was going through and reminded them that I was bringing home an attractive income, but felt it was coming from an unethical source and I couldn’t live with that. There were no ethics at work and human lives were at risk due to the company’s malpractices. I explained to them the company’s rush to get the product on the market and the compromises that were being made along the way with dangerous implications for the health of sick people. My family was completely empathetic to my predicament and fully supported my decision. Moreover, they had witnessed first-hand the effect of the stress on my health and personality.

A Dharmic Decision

Having my family’s backing and the satisfaction that I had tried my best to help the company correct its moral course, I tendered in my resignation and walked out from the job. What a relief it was! I felt a liberating sense of well-being the moment I cut myself clean from the situation. I was absolutely sure that I had done the right thing and Bhagavan had guided me through the entire experience. Nothing felt better than my decision to adhere to righteousness or dharma.

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Harnessing the Heart

As if to reward me for sticking to my conscience in the right path without being affected by the environment, with Bhagavan’s grace, I was offered a position as the Director of Clinical Compliance with one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, within three months of resigning from my previous job.

The new organisation highly values ethics and is recognized worldwide for its humanitarian assistance. The company values are in line with human values and the employees are encouraged to practice a chosen value for each month. In fact, there are routine presentations by the president of the new company about the values in work place. The company even won an award for contributing the largest amount of donations to under privileged countries in 2007.

Today, Bhagavan has finally found me the perfect career match, where I am in harmony with the ideals of the company. My sense of principles is in sync with the corporate vision of my current employer. The work environment is conducive to my personal practice of values, with no room for moral compromises.

It is an ideal ground for integrating spirituality within my professional life. There is no conflict between the two. My work feels like my worship. Every moment feels sacred. Could I have asked for a better opportunity for spiritual growth?

Meanwhile, at the previous company, the unethical activities continued but the bad karma has caught up. The president has been removed and the company is now on the verge of bankruptcy. In no way do I feel vindicated at their sorry state. Indeed, many lives have been adversely affected by the lack of moral compass of the few top people. When the leaders fail, the entire organisation suffers.

My experience is a testament for the outcome of following the dharmic path in my professional and personal life. Many of us go through similar challenges at our work environment where money is given priority over truth or right conduct these days. When we truly follow and practice human values and listen to our conscience, we are guided to ultimate victory by our beloved Bhagavan.

As Swami indicated in this extract from a Divine discourse delivered during the Convocation ceremony in 1996, whose words are a constant reminder that I follow dharma whatever situation I am in. “In whatever situation you may be placed in your official careers, never give way to untruth. You must uphold dharma, which means acting according to your conscience. This is the meaning of the Upanishadic dictum Sathyam Vadha, Dharma Chara; (Speak truth, follow righteousness). This was the advise given by sages to their disciples when they completed their studies.”

 

(Due to the sensitivity of the content, the identity of the author has been withheld. Apart from pursuing her career in the pharmaceutical giant, she continues to serve the Sri Sathya Sai Organisation in her city with devotion and gratitude. In fact, she says, “While I was using my computer for typing this experience, all of a sudden Bhagavan's picture with His saying ‘Why Fear When I Am Here’ appeared on my computer screen. For me, it was a marvellous flash of Divine affirmation not only of my experience but also of my decision to share it with my sisters and brothers who are aspiring to tread the path of righteousness.”)

Illustrations: Ms. Lyn Kriegler Elliott.


Dear reader, if you know of any such inspiring personality, please do share the story with us and we would only to be too happy to feature it in this section of Heart2Heart. After all, what is heart2Heart without tales of love, inspiration, values and compassion? You can write to us at h2[email protected]


 

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Vol 6 Issue 10 - OCTOBER 2008
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