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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

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Working Paper

Publication Date



Boston University School of Law




The high price of patented drugs lies at the heart of a major global public health crisis: the global poor are often denied access to lifesaving drugs due to high cost. Do global drug companies owe ethical or legal duties to make their drug patents available for the world’s low- and medium-income populations? We suggest that they do, through an exploration of the exceptions surrounding the “duty of rescue” - more precisely, the doctrine in US tort law that does not impose a duty to rescue absent special circumstances such as having contributed to the risk and enjoying special relationships to the endangered person. We find that these special circumstances are surprisingly applicable to global pharmaceutical markets, with both legal and ethical implications for global intellectual property law.

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