From free software to the free drugs movement

I recently stumbled on an extensive essay by Tony Prug, which examines different aspects of the impact and extension of the free software principles in other domains of social life. Amongst other things, it has a examination on the relationship between the hacker ethic and the Protestant ethic, a dialogue with the hypothesis of Pekka Himanen in his book on the Hacker Ethic. The essay is well worth reading.

One of the aspects I want to highlight, because I have insufficiently covered it so far on this blog, is the applicability of the free software principles to medicine and drug production.

Tony Prug has a simple translation of how the principles would apply:

“. Here’s how a definition of Free Drugs, another possible process of reconfiguration of the public and the private, could be inherited from Free Software:

* The freedom to use the drug, for any purpose (freedom 0).

* The freedom to study how the drug works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the drug recipe (blueprint) and acceptance through regulated clinical trials are preconditions for this.

* The freedom to redistribute copies of the drug and its recipe (blueprint) so you can help your neighbour (freedom 2).

* The freedom to improve the drug, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the drug recipe (blueprint) and acceptance through regulated clinical trials are preconditions for this.”

Here is some additional background, with Tony explaining why this such an important and urgent issue:

Given today’s drugs, AIDS could be contained worldwide in relatively short period of time, but corporations and governments stand in the way of millions dying being protected. Like people who decide to share online, they choose to do so, because they can, because nothing, no one, stands in their way. The production of drugs could follow the example of Free Software, be created in a more collaborative way, publishing recipes and allowing it to be freely produced, by anyone, for any purpose. If this was the case, controllable and curable diseases like malaria and AIDS, who together kill tens of millions of people every year, could be put under the control in most of the world. Yet this doesn’t happen. Why? We can assume it is because their work needs different tools and material conditions, and that prevents them from working in low cost environments, which confines them to academic and corporate world. If later is the case, we could conclude that it is the domination of capital over all other considerations, primacy of private over public, that prevents decommodification acts of Free Software to be repeatable in the sphere of free drugs. However, as the Swedish Pirate Party demonstrates, in Europe, the vast majority of drug research money already comes from taxes. Hence, a Free Software model for generic drugs might not be such a remote proposal. Instead of pushing through a neo-liberal constitution, Europe could, and should do the opposite act, create an institutional Free Drugs scientific movement, based on the Free Software hackers model, following the logic of Copyleft , patented for free production and reuse of all documentation, as a gift of its citizens to the world. One could argue that after centuries of military domination and exploitation, something like this is due. When ethics and its laws in the West allow death on such scale to occur, although the society has the means to prevent it, we have to ask: what is the difference between tens of millions dead in two world wars and the dead of malaria and AIDS today? The former were killed while later are allowed to die. Ethics complicit in mass death, an annually repeated disaster, not an one off event like the world wars, is the ethics of the West today: because our laws allow those deaths to occur.”

Tony recommends the following link on alternatives to patents.

Some related documentation in our wiki:

Access to Health ; Open Source Drug Discovery

Open Biology ; Open Source Biotechnology ; Pharmaceutical Commons

Open Health ; Health Services 2.0

Medical Insurance Peer Plans

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