Medical Tourism: The Framework of Ethics


The Hellenic National Bioethics Committee issued an Opinion on "Medical Tourism: The Framework of Ethics". Medical tourism or "cross-border health services" refer to the global phenomenon of citizens or patients travelling to seek health services in other countries, mainly because these services are not available or not permitted by law in their country of residence or are less costly to other countries. The most common services that citizens are seeking in foreign countries are Medically Assisted Reproduction, advanced therapies (including stem cell therapies) and aesthetic interventions.

The Commission reminds the right to be informed for the protection of health care recipients in the host country and points out that the State must carefully address the issues of advertising and quality assurance of the services offered. The Commission also notes the problems arising from differences between national legal systems, particularly in the field of Medically Assisted Reproduction.

In particular, for the issue of surrogacy, the Commission proposes - amongst other things - the provision of a special administrative procedure in order to scrutinize the emotional link of the surrogate mother and the commissioning couple, by a specialized Committee chaired by a magistrate (in line with the solution already established for the "emotional donor" in organ transplantations).

For the issue of advanced therapies, and in particular for stem cell therapies, the Commission stresses that the vast majority of advanced therapies are still at a research or clinical trial stage, meaning that their efficacy and safety still remains to be scientifically documented. For this reason, specialized centers offering advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs) are required to take the initiative and coordinate an aggressive policy of all stakeholders, including patient education and explanations on the stages of the legitimate research process.