Saturday, October 22, 2005

Tell me again why we don't let manufacturers infringe drug patents to help poor countries where everybody's dying?

It seems like the corporate lobbyists must have framed the debate over drug patent protection as it's talked about in the news. Otherwise, I can't explain why it came to me as a surprise today that actually there's a simple way to look at this, by which hundreds of millions need not die, nations need not collapse and whole continents need not stay perpetually poor--and morality has nothing to do with it. Please recall (those who ever knew), that it's the government of the United States, under Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution, that grants and enforces the monopolies that corporations enjoy on patented inventions such as drug formulas. Article 1 authorizes the U.S. government to do this furthermore for a perfectly explicit and entirely practical reason: To foster innovation and "the useful arts." So patent rights exist and the government justly enforces them strictly to advance a public policy goal. It's not because the U.S. Constitution recognizes a right for white men or anybody else to keep others from copying their clever ideas. Our property rights to land aren't moral and absolute either, you might recall: There's that judicially established principle of eminent domain to evict you when it serves the greater good. So if the U.S. government sees it as in the national interest to save hundreds of millions of people dying from AIDS or the flu, then why the hell wouldn't it just waive the drug's patent protection with regard to manufacture for sale abroad?

I find it hard to believe that anybody but a pharma-funded economist even has an opinion about whether we get more drug R&D by ensuring that Burundi buys a thousand pills for a $10 a pill instead of a million pills at a penny per pill (or god forbid only 999,000 pills, at a loss of $10 in revune). Why should the negotiation of such foreign sales arrangements be at the discretion of the corporate board or CEO of a drug company?

I guess I'm missing something, because I would have thought the people of the United States had an interest in hundreds of millions dying, nations collapsing and the spread of a global pandemic to electoral districts near them. You think you know a people, and then you don't.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

The people of the United States (and by people, I mean corporations and politicians) have a vested interest in their own money and not much else. This is why the drug companies send lobbyists to Washington: to prevent just such a thing from happening. They give politicians money for their coffers and the politicians uphold their "property" rights. It's really that simple.