Bioethics Blogs

How We Learned Not to Drop the E-Bomb

Jeremy Snyder and Valorie A. Crooks explain why they avoid using the word “ethics” on their Medical Tourism website.


We recently launched a website that aims to inform Canadians who are considering traveling abroad for medical care (often known as ‘medical tourism’) about some of the ethical issues associated with this practice. Our website uses stories inspired by the experiences of patients who have traveled abroad for medical care to inform people about some of the ethical dimensions of medical tourism, but we deliberately avoid using the word “ethics” on our site. This is because in our past interviews with former medical tourists, we encountered difficulties when we used the word “ethics” and its derivatives, or what we now refer to as the ‘e-bomb’.

Our research project explored the decision-making process of Canadian medical tourists, including whether ethical issues related to international medical travel influenced their decision-making. These ethical issues are varied, including problems with informed consent for the medical tourist, the danger of imposing new health risks and health resource burdens on members of the traveler’s home country, and concerns that medical tourism will increase health inequities by promoting the privatization of health care abroad. For this study, we developed an interview guide that probed the influence of these ethical issues on decision-making and we interviewed 32 participants from across Canada.

Photo by Angel Petropanagos

Photo by Angel Petropanagos

As an ethicist without any experience in qualitative empirical research (Snyder) and a health geographer without any training in ethical theory (Crooks), we did not foresee any problems with examining the ethical dimensions of the decision-making of former medical tourists.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.