Side Effects

In light of the upcoming field trip to go see the film “Side Effects” as a class, I decided to look up a plot summary. I mean, I vaguely knew what it was about, there’s a woman who gets prescribed some psychotherapeutic medications, Channing Tatum is her husband, there’s a murder somewhere along the line, but most of the details are kept under wraps. In the plot summary I found, I discovered that the main character, Emily, is prescribed a new drugs designed to treat anxiety that ends up having some very serious, very unexpected side effects. We’ve talked so much in class about the scary ethical dilemmas that we expect to face in the future (mostly about a future race of super humans genetically engineered to be “perfect”), but I feel that we are often forgetting about the scary ethical dilemmas we’re facing right now. I think that “Side Effects” serves as an excellent example of some current concerns.

For example, how many times have you been enjoying some down time watching bad television when a commercial comes on describing the newest drug on the market that ends with a list of potential side effects a mile long? Yes, reducing hypertension or preventing pregnancy is great, but maybe not when taking the drug also runs the risk of developing dangerous blood clots or having a heart attack. Is it truly ethical to prescribe these drugs to patients when we know the risks? Furthermore, many drug side effects don’t appear until the person have been on the drug for months, so it is a very real possibility for unexpected complications to arise, especially if the individual is on other medications at the same time.

Bringing the topic back to neuroscience, since every individual’s connectome is unique, it’s possible that we may never be 100% accurate in predicting how a drug will interact with their brain. Is it ethical, then, to prescribe a person a certain drug when we can’t be certain it will solve the problem, especially when the drug comes with the risk of serious side effects?side effects cartoon[1]

6 thoughts on “Side Effects

  1. I personally think that it is ethical to offer these drugs despite possible side effects. These drugs have gone through many stages of testing in order to diminish possible life-threatening risks. If companies were making drugs that had damaging side effects that were more likely to occur in an individual than the beneficial effect, this would be completely unethical. However, since these drugs are helping people with an illness or disorder, the pros outweigh the cons. Although companies try to hide some of their drug’s side effects (such as at the end of a commercial when the narrator talks really fast about when not to take the drug, etc.), for the most part, people are at least somewhat aware of the possible hazards of taking a drug. I think this is a very interesting controversy and brings up another somewhat similar question: are the intended benefits of taking a drug worth the potential side effects that could occur as a result?


  2. I was talking to a friend about this earlier this week, that it is odd that a possible side effect of some antidepressants is increased thoughts of suicide.

    You raise a really good point that these drugs that are being prescribed seem to have greater risks than benefits. Unfortunately, we need to take that risk of hoping the benefits will outweigh the risks because we still have a long ways to go until we find the “magic bullet”.


  3. Whenever I see a commercial like the one described above I always find it odd and often wonder if there are so many side effects as the voice-over talks absurdly fast, with the last side effect often being DEATH, why do we take these drugs? Death is a pretty hefty side effect for taking these drugs. While we are technically notified that there are all of these possible side effects, it almost doesn’t seem real that they will happen because the commercials almost desensitize us to these effects. When taking a drug I bet that most people don’t really consider death or severe side effects as a very real possibility. It is this lack of attention to very real medical problems when taking drugs that makes me wonder if it is ethical to give out drugs with these kinds of side effects. Yes, we are technically notified that these side effects can occur, but are we really aware of them?

    However, usually the benefits outweigh the costs in these cases and if it significantly improves a persons quality of life and the person is notified and understands the side effects, then I think it is ethical to take these kinds of drugs.


  4. My younger sister was recently diagnosed with a mood disorder and had to be put on medicines with potentially very serious side effects. I am sure she will be the first to tell you that since she was able to find the right combination of medicines, she is a completely different person and is now able to live a happy, normal teenage life. However, as she was being put on the medicines it was a definitely a battle of side effects. I remember one week, after a recent increase in medication, she went to her doctor with the complaint of having gained 10 pounds within the past three days, and was promptly put on another medicine that made her lose 20 pounds over the next two weeks. Even though these medicines seem like they might be extreme, or scary, or even overprescribed, they can and do make a difference in the lives of many people. I have seen them transform my sisters life, and I can’t imagine what would happen if she did not have access to them. I know the side effects I’m talking about seem trivial, of course weight won’t kill you, but I think that lends itself to the more serious side effects such as blood clots, which can cause heart attack or stroke. I think it is so important to not be afraid of the side effects because the intended benefits outweigh those risks.


  5. I believe it is absolutely ethical to be prescribing these medications even through they have some insane side effects. Through my life I have seen psychotheraputic drugs transform many of the lives very close to mine. Whether is was family or my closest friends, It has given them a completely new outlook on life or even a reason to keep moving forward. One of the biggest struggles with getting to a stable point was this huge mountain called “side effects”. The side effects of some of these medications were outrageous and watching someone so close to you go through them is heartbreaking, but you know that when all is said and done the benefits of these medications can and will literally save this persons life.

    Though these medications have extremely strong side effects, if they can give someone hope and possibly save a life, prescribing them is completely ethical and worth it.


  6. In a field where the pharmaceutical answers to disease and disorder are constantly changing, it is hard to find a balance in ethics. On one hand, a drug has the possibility of changing someone’s life for the better, while on the other, it can be potentially life threatening or altering. I would like to think that those who are being prescribed potentially dangerous medications take the time to carefully weigh their options, as I’m sure they do, however in the end, these decisions more or less become a sort of gamble. Of course, the odds are on their side in many cases, but who ever wants to bet on their health? At what point would someone decide that the risks aren’t worth the benefits?


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