Bioethics Blogs

Stem Cell Tourism and Patient Education

What is the role of public education and stem cell
tourism? What type of education is available to patients, caregivers and the
public? Can public education actually change people’s minds such that they
won’t undergo an unproven stem cell-based intervention (SCBI)? These are the
questions I will discuss here. But first, let’s just give a brief description
of stem cell tourism and outline some of the proposals discussed to stop this
industry.

The “Stem Cell
Tourism” Industry and Ways to Curtail the Market

Briefly, “stem cell tourism” is a term used to describe an
Internet-based, direct-to-consumer advertised industry where patients receive
unproven SCBIs for a range of diseases and injuries. Many clinics offering
unproven SCBIs are in countries with lax regulations and enforcement. However, these
clinics are also increasingly popping up in highly regulated countries like the
U.S., U.K. and Australia. The term “stem cell tourism” is misleading because
patients may not necessarily need to travel a great distance to receive such
interventions, and focuses on patient behaviors instead of others involved in
this market including regulatory agencies and the providers offering them.
Moreover, there are some real risks to stem cell tourism. Beyond patients being
financially exploited, there are several reports of tumors, lesions, tremors,
other problems, and even deaths of individuals receiving unproven SCBIs. And
there seems to be a stem cell “treatment” for just about every disease and
injury, no matter how severe or benign if the patient can pay anywhere from
$8,000-$30,000. Clinics advertise for serious conditions such as heart disease,
stroke, MS, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, and spinal cord injury among many others.

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.