Cost-benefit analysis is consequentialist ethics in action. It is a powerful, widely used and relatively easy tool in which the costs are weighed against the benefits for deciding whether to make a change, for example to develop a new drug.
Developing a new drug is hugely costly, and gets progressively expensive as the process continues. In the early stages, when a new potentially useful compound has been identified it has to be tested, first in the lab and then on two different species of animal. If you want to read more about animals in research, click here.
First a careful cost-benefit analysis is made. The actual financial costs of development are calculated and then set against the benefit that is expected to come from deploying the drug. Where costs or benefits are paid or received over long periods of time, pharmaceutical companies have to plan for the time it will take for the benefits to repay the costs.
Can you think of factors, other than time, that are more difficult to put a cost upon that may have to be taken into account?
Similarly, risk-benefit analysis weighs the probability and amount of potential harm against the probability and amount of potential benefit of introducing a change. Various measures of harm and risk are used. This form of analysis is widely used to set standards of public and workplace health and to assess new medicines and medical technologies. However it is more subjective, as people’s opinions vary about the “value” placed on different risks and benefits.
The Human Genome