Is medical tourism ethical?

Harvard law professor argues that medical tourism is not ethical and can damage healthcare systems. Presentation in Canada on the ethics of medical tourism.

Harvard law professor, Glenn Cohen, author of ‘Patients with passports: medical tourism, law, and ethics’ spoke in Canada on the ethics of medical tourism.

Cohen used Bangladesh and India as examples of where low-income citizens sell their organs. The demand for kidneys in particular has increased due to an aging population and the high prevalence of diabetes.

Cohen brought up the question of whether selling your own organs should ever be allowed. He had no answer, other than suggesting that people in each country must help determine the rules; which for poor people with no education is rather difficult.

He argued that organ transplant tourism places a very real pressure on the Canadian and US health care systems. People who have transplant operations using illegally purchased organs are much more likely to experience complications at home, taking up substantial medical resources while they recover.

Cohen argued it was a problem, but had to admit that there are no real figures on either numbers or the cost to domestic healthcare systems. His solution to the problem is that more people should donate organs.

In general, Cohen is sceptical of medical tourism, and suggests that medical tourists from the UK and Sweden brought back bacterial infections that are resistant to medication and can be traced to medical treatment in India, Pakistan and the Balkan states.

Cohen is adamant that medical tourism causes problems for citizens of places where medical tourists go and for healthcare systems of countries that medical tourists return to. “Forget about the illegal stuff, the concern is what our health care consumption is doing in terms of physicians and medicine and public health funding in less developed countries. It can distort it an a way that harms the worst-off folks who are unable to get health care because all the doctors are being brain-drained out of the public system toward medical tourists.”