Medical Tourism, Access to Health Care, and Global Justice

57 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2011 Last revised: 4 Oct 2011

Date Written: September 13, 2011


Medical tourism - the travel of patients from one (the “home”) country to another (the “destination”) country for medical treatment - represents a growing business. A number of authors have raised the concern that medical tourism reduces access to health care for the destination country’s poor and suggested that home country governments or international bodies have obligations to curb medical tourism or mitigate its negative effects when they occur.

This Article is the first to comprehensively examine both the question of whether this negative effect on access to health care occurs for the destination country’s poor, and the normative question of the home country and international bodies’ obligations if it does occur. I draw on the work of leading theorists from the Statist, Cosmopolitan, and Intermediate camps on Global Justice and apply it to medical tourism. I also show how the application of these theories to medical tourism highlights areas in which these theories are underspecified and suggests diverging paths for filling in lacunae. Finally, I discuss the kinds of home country, destination country, and multilateral forms of regulation this analysis would support and reject.

This Article is the second in a trilogy of law review articles I have done on various aspects of Medical Tourism. The first Article, Protecting Patients with Passports: Medical Tourism and the Patient Protective-Argument, 95 Iowa L. Rev. 1467 (2010) is available at The third Article, Circumvention Tourism, 97 Cornell L. Rev. _ (2012) is forthcoming and will be posted on SSRN in the near future.

Keywords: Medical Tourism, Medical Migration, Brain Drain, Global Justice, Cosmopolitan, Statist

Suggested Citation

Cohen, I. Glenn, Medical Tourism, Access to Health Care, and Global Justice (September 13, 2011). Virginia Journal of International Law, Vol. 52, 2011, Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 11-23, Available at SSRN: or

I. Glenn Cohen (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1525 Massachusetts Avenue
Griswold Hall 503
Cambridge, 02138
United States

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