Bioethics Blogs

Glenn Cohen, Patients with Passports: Medical Tourism, Law, and Ethics, Oxford University Press, 2014

Glenn Cohen’s Patients with Passports: Medical Tourism, Law, and Ethics offers a thorough examination of the growing practice of medical tourism, the legal regulations governing it, and the many ethical issues it raises for policy-makers, health care providers, and prospective medical tourists. Demonstrating mastery of the relevant literatures in the social sciences, law, ethics, and political philosophy, Cohen provides a comprehensive overview of the current practice of medical tourism, and offers well-argued, sensible policy advice to guide its reform. Cohen’s book is a significant achievement of interdisciplinary scholarship and is essential reading for scholars and policy-makers.

Medical tourists, Cohen claims, are people who travel to a foreign country for the primary purpose of getting health care. While the popular image of medical tourism in the U.S. context involves patients from high-income countries such as the U.S. traveling to low-income countries such as Mexico, India, or Thailand to access less costly health care or services that are illegal in their home country, Cohen notes that a good deal of medical tourism does not fit this image. Medical tourism also occurs between high-income countries—e.g., Canadian patients seeking care in the U.S.; between low- and middle-income countries—e.g., Cuba is a major destination for patients from many Caribbean and Central American countries; and from low-and middle-income to high-income countries as wealthy patients in the former seek what they presume to be better care in the latter. Although Cohen’s book touches on the legal and ethical issues raised by all of these different flows of medical tourists, the focus of his analysis largely concerns high-income patients—i.e.,

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