Fund my treatment!: A call for ethics-focused social science research into the use of crowdfunding for medical care

Soc Sci Med. 2016 Nov:169:27-30. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.09.024. Epub 2016 Sep 16.


Crowdfunding involves raising money from large groups of individuals, often through the use of websites dedicated to this purpose. Crowdfunding campaigns aimed at raising money to pay for expenses related to receiving medical treatment are receiving increased media attention and there is evidence that medical crowdfunding websites are heavily used. Nonetheless, virtually no scholarly attention has been paid to these medical crowdfunding campaigns and there is no systematic evidence about how widely they are used and for what reasons, and what effects they have on the provision of medical care and individuals' relationships to their health systems. Ethical concerns have been raised in relation to these campaigns, focusing on issues for campaigners and donors such as exposure to fraudulent campaigns, loss of privacy, and fairness in how medical crowdfunding funds are distributed. Medical crowdfunding websites themselves have not been systematically studied, despite their significant influence on how these campaigns are developed and promoted. In this paper, we identify three very broad and pressing ethical questions regarding medical crowdfunding for social scientists to address and offer some preliminary insights into key issues informing future answers to each: Who benefits the most from medical crowdfunding and how does medical crowdfunding affect access to medical care; How does medical crowdfunding affect our understanding of the causes of inadequate access to medical care; and How are campaigner and donor privacy affected by website design? Our observations indicate the need for increased scholarly attention to the ethical and practical effects of medical crowdfunding for campaigners, recipients, donors, and the health system as a whole.

Keywords: Equity; Ethics; Medical crowdfunding; Privacy.

MeSH terms

  • Crowdsourcing / economics
  • Crowdsourcing / methods*
  • Health Care Costs / trends*
  • Health Services Accessibility / economics
  • Health Services Accessibility / ethics
  • Health Services Accessibility / trends
  • Healthcare Financing / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Social Sciences / methods