Stem cell tourism and future stem cell tourists: policy and ethical implications

Dev World Bioeth. 2012 Apr;12(1):35-44. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-8847.2012.00319.x.


Stem cell tourism is a small but growing part of the thriving global medical tourism marketplace. Much stem cell research remains at the experimental stage, with clinical trials still uncommon. However, there are over 700 clinics estimated to be operating in mostly developing countries--from Costa Rica and Argentina to China, India and Russia--that have lured many patients, mostly from industrialized countries, driven by desperation and hope, which in turn continue to fuel the growth of such tourism. While much research has focused on such dimensions as the promotions that allow such businesses to make their services known, media coverage, some patient research, and regulatory conditions for developing country clinics, little attention has been paid to the non-affected members of the general population, the future potential users of such services. This empirical study based on five focus group discussions with a diverse group of healthy adults in a Canadian city, explored participant views of patients who use stem cell tourism services, the likelihood they would avail themselves of such services if they were to suffer similar illnesses, and the conditions under which they might do so, and the impact that admonitions and advice from international expert bodies might have on their decisions. Our findings suggest that these healthy adults are sympathetic to the drivers of hope and desperation, and, despite cautions about research limitations, may seek such treatments themselves under similar conditions. These findings are discussed in the context of the policy and ethical issues raised by this form of medical tourism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Developing Countries*
  • Health Care Rationing* / ethics
  • Health Care Rationing* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Health Care Sector / ethics
  • Health Care Sector / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Health Resources / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Medical Tourism / ethics*
  • Medical Tourism / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Patient Safety*
  • Social Perception
  • Stem Cell Research / ethics
  • Stem Cell Research / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Stem Cell Transplantation / ethics*
  • Stem Cell Transplantation / legislation & jurisprudence*