Front Matter, Preface, and An Introduction to: Patients with Passports Medical Tourism Law and Ethics

I. Glenn Cohen, Patients with Passports: Medical tourism, Law and Ethics (OUP 2014)

Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 14-41

60 Pages Posted: 27 Oct 2014 Last revised: 11 Dec 2014

Date Written: October 24, 2014


Can your employer require you to travel to India for a hip replacement as a condition of insurance coverage? If injury results, 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? What about travel for abortion? In my new book, Patients with Passports, just released by Oxford University Press, I tackle these important questions, and provide the first comprehensive legal and ethical analysis of medical tourism.

Medical tourism (or "medical travel") is a growing multi-billion dollar industry involving millions of patients who travel abroad each year to get health care. Some seek legitimate services like hip replacements and travel to avoid queues, save money, or because their insurer has given them an incentive to do so. Others seek to circumvent prohibitions on accessing services at home and go abroad to receive abortions, assisted suicide, commercial surrogacy, or experimental stem cell treatments.

This material the press has allowed me to upload to SSRN for distribution includes the front matter and the first two chapters of the book.

The "Preface" chapter introduces the book and the scope of medical tourism through the stories of six sets of medical tourists (some real persons, others composite) that sketch the very different needs, hopes, and experiences of patients traveling for care.

A second chapter, "An Introduction to the Medical Tourism Industry," introduces the industry at a more theoretical and data-centered level. It describes various ways of dividing the industry and brings together all the best existing available data to give a thick descriptive account of the industry and its major players: home country governments, destination country governments, destination country hospitals and their staffs, accreditors, facilitators, insurers, home country partner hospitals, and industry associations.

As these chapters and the book itself demonstrates, very different patients are traveling for very different reasons that raise very different legal and ethical issues. Some patients are traveling for cardiac bypass and other legal services to places like India, Thailand, and Mexico. I analyze among other things issues of quality of care, disease transmission, liability, private and public health insurance, and the effects of this trade on foreign health care systems. Other patients are using medical tourism to attain services illegal in the patient's home country, such as organ purchase, abortion, assisted suicide, fertility services, and experimental stem cell treatments. Here, I examine issues such as extraterritorial criminalization, exploitation, immigration, and the protection of children.

Through compelling narratives, expert data, and industry explanations, my goal is to connect the reader to the most prevalent legal and ethical issues facing medical tourism today.

Keywords: Medical tourism, medical travel, globalization, health care, organ transplant, transplant tourism, abortion, assisted suicide, stem cells, global justice, malpractice, health care quality, trade

JEL Classification: F1, F15, H51, I1, I12, I18, J13, K13, K42, M3, 03

Suggested Citation

Cohen, I. Glenn, Front Matter, Preface, and An Introduction to: Patients with Passports Medical Tourism Law and Ethics (October 24, 2014). I. Glenn Cohen, Patients with Passports: Medical tourism, Law and Ethics (OUP 2014), Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 14-41, Available at SSRN:

I. Glenn Cohen (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1525 Massachusetts Avenue
Griswold Hall 503
Cambridge, 02138
United States

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