Intellectual Property and the Pharmaceutical Industry: A Moral Crossroads Between Health and Property

Journal of Business Ethics 55 (3):295-308 (2004)
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The moral justification of intellectual property is often called into question when placed in the context of pharmaceutical patents and global health concerns. The theoretical accounts of both John Rawls and Robert Nozick provide an excellent ethical framework from which such questions can be clarified. While Nozick upholds an individuals right to intellectual property, based upon its conformation with Lockean notions of property and Nozicks ideas of just acquisition and transfer, Rawls emphasizes the importance of basic liberties, such as an individuals right to health, superceding such secondary rights as intellectual property rights. From a policy perspective, patent protection for pharmaceutical products necessarily entails the balancing of corporate intellectual property interests and public interests in healthcare. The moral dilemma that occurs when these two interests clash is not easily resolved. Aside from corporate and public interests, the state maintains an interest in creating and preserving policies that regulate the moral dilemma itself. This paper analyzes the economic and ethical factors surrounding the production and distribution of the anti-HIV medication, AZT. Potential policy implications and recommendations are also discussed
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