Do the pharmaceutical companies have an obligation to develop and produce vaccines for diseases (such as Malaria and TB) which are prevalent in poor countries?

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I agree with the other posters. The drug companies are not required to, really, do anything. They are in business for the same reasons all other business are started: money.

They would lose too much, monetarily, if they were to provide their products to countries who cannot afford them.

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I'm sorry to say that I snickered a little bit at your question, ... and that's just because the only obligation that capitalist companies, like the big drug companies, care about is making money.  If they care about humanitarianism in any way, it is more of an image issue.

Take it from the wife of on organic chemist.  My husband used to work for one of those large pharmaceutical giants, and we will both attest that they cared most about their bottom line.  Kudos to brettd, though.  I like the distinction between "legal obligation" and "moral obligation."

I think that the individual chemists (and other workers) feel more of that moral obligation than the company does.  Ironically, sometimes those same workers are penalized for that very moral obligation.  Therefore, if you had worded your question differently by referring to "the people who create new vaccines and medicines," this thread could contain VERY different responses!

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Science without Humanity was one of Gandhi's Seven Sins in the Modern World.  Do they have a legal obligation?  No, they are private businesses.  Do they have a moral obligation?  Yes, and according to their own code.  Researchers and doctors develop these vaccines, and take their own oath to ease human suffering and preserve life.  But if they have a moral obligation, don't we all? 

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I don't think any company has an obligation to do so.  They certainly won't, unless there is a profit in it.  A company is not going to spend the money to develop a vaccine if it is going to give it away for free.  If the government was guaranteed to purchase it, then they might.

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I think they have a moral obligation to do so, but unfortunately there is no legal obligation as yet. I do think that countries are being encouraged to develop their own vaccines or that pharmaceutical companies are being encouraged to offer their vaccines at a significant discount, but I am not too sure about this. Unfortunately, the practices of pharmaceutical companies such as GSK and others are mired in controversy for precisely the way in which they profit at the expense of those who are often least able to afford the medicine that they need. Is it ever morally correct to withold treatment from somebody who is ill if they cannot afford it?

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I agree with all the previous posters.  Companies cannot be faced with legal obligations that might put them out of business, but companies can be encouraged to do what is morally right if they are capable of doing so without going bankrupt. It serves the interests of no one if companies capable of doing good for the world are bankrupted by unrealistic legal obligations. Many companies, however, have very good track records of behaving philanthropically, and perhaps drug companies could be motivated to do good (in addition to doing well) if they were stimulated by tax incentives.

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It may not be a case of "obligation" in any legal sense, but the eternal optimist in me hopes that there would be a moral impetus to support research that could lead to such life-saving types of medicines. Research is expensive and labor-intensive and probably should not be left exclusively to pharmaceutical companies, as their incentive may focus too much on the profit margin and not on the potential impact on peoples' lives. But I would hope the companies would see the value and facilitate the effort once it is under way.

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Pohnpei makes good points concerning profit margin and such in the previous post, but I do believe that pharmaceutical companies have an "obligation" to produce and develop necessary vaccines. I don't believe they should be legally required to do so, but I also believe that their profit would be sufficient for such production and research.

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The word "obligation" implies a situation in which companies must develop and produce these vaccines if they are to be in compliance with either the law or some sort of moral commands.  I do not think that there is any such situation.  Companies do not have an obligation to commit open-ended amounts of resources to the development of a vaccine that will not make them any money.

Companies may seem to have huge amounts of money, but they are not charities.  They have no obligation to use the money that they make (which, after all, belongs to their stockholders) to give to charity.  This is especially true in the case that you are asking about.  In this case, you are not simply asking if they have a moral obligation to give some percentage of their profits to charity.  Instead, you are asking if they have an obligation to actually develop and produce these vaccines.  That is an open-ended commitment because it is possible that such development and production would cost much more than it would be reasonable to expect a company to give.

This is equivalent to asking if a well-off family has the obligation to make sure a poor family has what it needs.  The rich family may have an obligation to give some of its money to charity.  However, it surely cannot have the obligation to do everything that the poor family needs because that might include a house and a car and college tuition.  Big businesses, too, have limits and cannot be expected to go over them simply because it would be nice if they did.

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