Is Medical Tourism Ethical? image

The Greenwall Foundation, September 2016


Read the Full Profile

Petrie-Flom Faculty Director I. Glenn Cohen served as a Greenwall Foundation Faculty Scholar, Class of 2015. The Greenwall Foundation recently published a profile of Cohen's project, "Is Medical Tourism Ethical?":

In brief: When is it ethical to travel abroad for health care? What are the risks and legal implications for patients, doctors, and everyone else? Glenn Cohen studies these and other ethical questions raised by medical tourism.

Imagine you need a hip replacement. Can your employer require you to travel to India as a condition of insurance coverage, because the surgery is cheaper there? If you’re injured, can you sue the doctor, hospital, or insurer for medical malpractice in the country where you live? Can a country prohibit its citizens from helping a relative travel to Switzerland for assisted suicide, or traveling to Bangladesh to buy a kidney on the black market? What about travel for abortion? Greenwall Faculty Scholar I. Glenn Cohen’s research tackles these important questions relating to medical tourism, also known as medical travel or cross-border health care. Medical tourism is the travel by a patient from their country of residence (the “home country”) to a foreign country (the “destination country”) for the primary purpose of securing care. Cohen has written the first comprehensive legal and ethical analysis of medical tourism, culminating in a series of articles and the book Patients With Passports: Medical Tourism, Ethics, and Law (Oxford University Press 2014).

Medical tourism represents a growing multi-billion-dollar industry in which millions of patients travel abroad each year to get health care. Some seek services like hip replacements that are legal in their home countries and travel to avoid lines, save money, or because their insurer has given them an incentive to do so. Others travel in search of services that are illegal at home, such as abortions, assisted suicide, reproductive surrogacy, or experimental stem cell treatments. Both types of medical tourism raise a host of thorny ethical and legal questions.

Professor Cohen’s work examines why people travel for medical tourism, the dangers they face, and the ethical and legal issues their travel raises for other patients in their home country and in the destination country. 

For more on Cohen's work as a Greenwall Foundation Faculty Scholar, visit their website!

abortion bioethics end-of-life global health health care finance health law policy human tissue i. glenn cohen insurance international medical safety medical tourism regulation reproductive rights reproductive technologies stem cells