The Practice of Pharmaceutics and the Obligation to Expand Access to Investigational Drugs

J Med Philos. 2020 Mar 19;45(2):193-211. doi: 10.1093/jmp/jhz038.


Do pharmaceutical companies have a moral obligation to expand access to investigational drugs to patients outside the clinical trial? One reason for thinking they do not is that expanded access programs might negatively affect the clinical trial process. This potential impact creates dilemmas for practitioners who nevertheless acknowledge some moral reason for expanding access. Bioethicists have explained these reasons in terms of beneficence, compassion, or a principle of rescue, but their arguments have been limited to questions of moral permissibility, leaving for future research the question of whether expanded access is morally obligatory. We take up this further question and argue that pharmaceutical companies have a moral obligation to expand access. Our defense is not based on beneficence, compassion, or rescue, but instead on a reciprocal moral expectation resulting from existing social commitments that help ensure a robust pharmaceutical practice within the broader healthcare system. Our aim is to give this obligation, along with several others, a coherent and plausible structure within the wider clinical trial process so that one might better explain the sources of the dilemmas and their possible resolutions.

Keywords: compassionate use; constructivism; expanded access; pharmaceutical ethics.

MeSH terms

  • Beneficence
  • Bioethical Issues
  • Biopharmaceutics / ethics*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / ethics
  • Drug Industry / ethics*
  • Drugs, Investigational / administration & dosage
  • Drugs, Investigational / adverse effects
  • Drugs, Investigational / therapeutic use*
  • Health Services Accessibility / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Moral Obligations*
  • Social Justice


  • Drugs, Investigational