When Ethics Means Life and Death

We know that terrorists follow very different ethical standards than the rest of us.  That is, if what they follow can be defined as ethics in any sense.

What we may not appreciate are ethical differences between executives of some major corporations and the rest of us.  The latest poster child for the unimaginable is Olympus corporation of Japan.  Yes, this is the same company that once produced cute little cameras.

Endoscopes are magnificent devices that permit doctors to perform minimally invasive surgery.  The core of the device is a long flexible cable only millimeters thick that can be threaded through the colon, through major arteries or veins or through the belly button and can bendoscopee used to see and act on problems in the body.  The can be used to remove polyps, clear blockages, remove cancer cells, and enlarge or reduce breast size, among a host of other uses.

Endoscopes are throw-away devices.  They’re expensive and are reused.  That means they need to be cleaned thoroughly after each use and before being used on a new patient.  Manufacturers have elaborate devices and procedures to ensure a thorough cleaning.

At least most do.

Olympus manufactures these devices and apparently introduced a new model sometime in the last 5 years that was very difficult to clean.  Why is anyone’s guess.

  • Since 2013, 46 patients have died from infections from Olympus endoscopes.

After initial deaths in Europe, Olympus headquarters determined (another email leak) that there was no need to report the problem to US authorities.

“1. Olympus officials allegedly told European customers in January 2013 about a contaminated scope after French and Dutch hospitals reported two dozen infections. Laura Storms, vice president of regulatory and clinical affairs at Olympus America in Center Valley, Pa., became concerned about a similar outbreak in Pittsburgh, and asked Tokyo officials if they would be communicating the same information to U.S. customers regarding the outbreak.

2. Susumu Nishina, the company’s chief manager for market quality administration, replied via email  that it was not necessary “to communicate to all the users actively”  because a company assessment of the infection outbreak in Europe found the risk to be acceptable.”

Source:  http://www.beckersasc.com/gastroenterology-and-endoscopy/olympus-under-fire-internal-emails-reveal-us-execs-told-not-to-issue-warning-about-possible-fatal-scope-infection-10-takeaways.html

Since 2013, 35 patients in the US have died from infections from contaminated Olympus endoscopes.

The outbreak was the subject of a Senate investigation in 2015.

It took until January of this year for Olympus to own up to the problem and commit to redesigning the device to correct it.  Until January, all of the problems were written off as user error.  In fact, after the initial infections, Olympus raised the price for its endoscopes.

Does your doctor know about this issue?  Is he/she still using the tainted equipment?

Is Olympus a brand worthy of trust?

Companies deserve severe punishment until we know with certainty that public safety comes before profit.

Were you aware of this?



(a) Rechtoris, Mary, “Olympus under fire: Internal emails reveal US execs told not to issue warning about possible fatal scope infection — 10 takeaways.”  Becker’s GI & Endoscopy.  July 25, 2016.

(b) Peterson, Melody, “Olympus to recall and redesign medical scope linked to superbug outbreaks.”  Los Angeles Times.  January 15, 2016.



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