Should Stores Sell Medicine that Doesn’t Work?


I should boycott pharmacy chains that sell homeopathic medicine because homeopathic medicine doesn’t work.

Q1 Analysis

If you are certain the medicine doesn’t work, boycott other stores that have similar problems, are sure that the store’s management is aware of what it is doing, and are defining "doesn’t work" in a consistent way, this probably isn’t a Q1 violation.

Q2 Analysis

This is not a Q2 violation so long as you respect other peoples’ right to boycott retail establishments for similar reasons — even if you don’t agree with their conclusions, and even if the establishment is your own.


Before boycotting a store because of the nonefficacy of one of its products, you should be sure that your reasons for the boycott are sufficient. For example, when you say that the medicine in question doesn’t work, do you mean that it doesn’t work at all, or that it just didn’t work for you? In the case of homeopathic medicine, you can refer to large scientific studies that show it is not beneficial, and if this is the reason for your protest you must accept similar evidence for the benefit or non-benefit of other medications. To reject homeopathic medicine for scientific reasons but insist that an herb has medical benefits despite scientific findings to the contrary would be a Q2 violation.

Even when you are sure that your reasons for condemning the medication are sound, you must make sure that the pharmacy chain you intend to boycott is knowingly doing wrong. To punish someone (or, in this case, something) that is not knowingly doing wrong would violate Q2. Does the chain’s management know the arguments against homeopathic medicine? Do they know about the evidence but reasonably disagree with it?

If they know that the product is ineffective but feel that they must carry it because it’s what customers want (and, perhaps, because the profit margin is significant), are they willing to make some kind of concession (not feature it in counter-top displays, ask their pharmacists not to recommend it or to recommend alternatives, put it in a special section, etc.), would you consider such concessions a reasonable compromise?

If the store claims to stand behind its products, that would be another mitigating factor. You might consider a warehouse-size drugstore that essentially carries everything less morally liable than a smaller store in which the pharmacist personally selects what should be on the shelves. On the other hand, you might reason that a large chain makes enough profit that it can afford to not carry ineffective products.

Your decision whether or not to boycott should also be informed by how significant you consider the harm of carrying the product in question to be. If homeopathic medicine can’t hurt anyone even though it doesn’t work, you might consider it harmless. Or if you think that it wastes the money of the sick or diverts people from effective treatment, you might consider it harmful.

Would you boycott other establishments that might have a similar problem? For example, would you boycott:

You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at and See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.

Posted on August 13, 2010 at 10:27 am by ideclare · Permalink
In: 2Q

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