Bioethics Blogs

Medical tourism for controversial treatment options

By Dominic Wilkinson

 

Baby C’s parents had done their research. They had read widely about different options for C and had clear views about what they felt would be best for their child. They had asked a number of doctors in this country, but none were willing to provide the treatment. After contacting some specialists overseas, they had found one expert who agreed. If the family were able to pay for treatment, he was willing to provide that treatment option.

However, when C’s local doctors discovered that the parents planned to leave the country for treatment the doctors embarked on court proceedings and contacted the police.

One of the questions highlighted in the Charlie Gard case has been whether his parents should be free to travel overseas for desired experimental treatment. It has been claimed that the NHS and Great Ormond St are “keeping him captive”. Why shouldn’t C’s parents be free to travel to access a medical treatment option? When, if ever, should a state intervene to prevent medical tourism?

On the face of it, stopping patients or parents from undertaking medical tourism appears to violate two important freedoms – the freedom to travel and the freedom to make decisions about medical treatment. There might be reason for a country not to provide a particular treatment option – for example because it is unaffordable within a public healthcare system, or because doctors in that country do not approve of it, or lack experience or expertise in providing it. But why should patients or parents be prevented from accessing treatment overseas.

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.