Philosophy of Management 19 (4):369-385 (2020)
AbstractRecently, dramatic price increases by several pharmaceutical companies have provoked public outrage. These scandals raise questions both about how pharmaceutical firms should be regulated and about how pharmaceutical executives ethically ought to make pricing decisions when drug prices are largely unregulated. Though there is an extensive literature on the regulatory question, the ethical question has been largely unexplored. This article defends a Kantian approach to the ethics of pharmaceutical pricing in an unregulated market. To the extent possible, pharmaceutical companies must price drugs so that those who genuinely need them can get them without financial ruin. This requirement is an ethical side constraint, like the moral prohibitions on deception and theft, that takes precedence over a business’s interest in maximizing profit. That said, the requirement’s application is sensitive to the need to recoup the costs of research and to produce a return that financially justifies the original investment. It may not be either feasible or desirable for government to attempt to enforce the ethical requirements concerning just pharmaceutical pricing. Either price regulation or subsidy could fulfill government’s obligation to protect patients from being objectionably vulnerable to pricing decisions by private companies.
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