The Morality of Compulsory Licensing as an Access to Medicines Tool
31 Pages Posted: 17 Jun 2018
Date Written: May 31, 2018
Drug prices are soaring in rich and poor countries and are reducing access to medicines for many people who need them the most. Nevertheless, efforts by governments, activists, scholars, and others to reduce costs through mechanisms such as compulsory licenses routinely meet with censure at the hubris of even considering harm to the goose that lays the golden eggs of new medical breakthroughs and life-saving treatments, with such efforts often being labeled as “theft.”
This Article examines the biblical origins of theft rhetoric in relation to pharmaceutical patents and compulsory licenses. It explores the broad context of Judeo-Christian prohibitions on theft to provide a richer, more nuanced, and more accurate understanding of the appropriateness and wisdom of limits on pharmaceutical patents to enhance access to medicines in the United States and beyond. Using the biblical analogy of pe’ah, it allows us to begin to reframe the compulsory licensing discussion and ask who is really “stealing” from whom.
Keywords: compulsory licenses, access to medicines, commandments, Judeo-Christian, pharmaceuticals, patents
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