Annual Report 2021

Digital ethics

Having made it our mission to develop new digital technologies responsibly, we identify any ethical issues that may arise from either using this technology or from applying algorithm-driven and data-based business models at an early stage.

Established in 2021, the new Digital Ethics Advisory Panel of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany (DEAP) focuses on complex ethical issues surrounding digital technologies. Ensuring that our digital business model follows a holistic, ethical approach, its efforts complement the work of our Ethics Advisory Panel for Science and Technology (MEAP). Launched in 2010, the MEAP provides guidance on ethical issues pertaining to our business activities and research.

Roles and responsibilities

The DEAP deals with all ethical issues arising from our digital businesses, especially digital health. It plays a pivotal role in ensuring that we develop digital innovations responsibly and address potential digital ethics questions that could result from the use of these digital technologies. Making recommendations on our actions as a company, the panel consists of external United States’ and European science and industry experts from the following fields: digital ethics, law, Big Data technologies, digital health, medicine, and data governance. Furthermore, if necessary, we draw on bioethics experts as well as representatives from patient organizations. As with the MEAP, the DEAP is appointed by the Executive Board. All employees may submit topics for the panel to discuss. The minutes from DEAP meetings as well as their recommendations will be accessible on our intranet. The panel held four meetings in 2021. One DEAP session focused on our company’s role and responsibility in terms of how (patient) data is collected and handled by customers who utilize our digital products and services.

What we are committed to: Policies and standards

We aim to position ourselves as the “digital ethics company”, meeting rigorous ethical standards in critical areas such as health data handling.

In 2021, we worked with the DEAP and other partners from academia and science to draft our Code of Digital Ethics (CoDE), a document that governs our approach to the ethical management of data and algorithms. The CoDE serves as a guideline for our digital business models, a tool for analyzing ethical challenges, and a basis for practical DEAP guidance. In March 2021, the Executive Board decided to classify the CoDE as a charter; this is our company’s highest category for quality control documents and one that also includes our Code of Conduct and our company values. As such, the CoDE applies to all employees, is publicly accessible, and will become part of the employee training curricula.

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