Ethical dilemmas surrounding medical tourism


Not every Canadian heading to Mexico at this time of year is looking to lie on a beach. Increasingly some are stretching out on operating tables for surgery without a long waiting list, at affordable prices. And for some, the ethical question is not should they be going to another country and paying but rather how can Canada be so unethical to keep them waiting. We look at the conundrum and the consequences of an Operation Vacation.

Panel: Valorie Crooks / Jeremy Snyder

We started this segment with a clip from doctors in Mexico and a foreign patient who traveled there for surgery. There are plenty of online testimonials and anecdotes of patients going abroad and paying out-of-pocket for procedures that are either wait-listed, more expensive or unavailable at home... everything from dental care to kidney transplants.

No one knows exactly how many Canadians engage in medical tourism, or what the consequences are. But a team of researchers is now working on the first comprehensive, international study about the impact of medical tourism on the developing countries that treat foreigners.

The issue is fraught with ethical questions, and as part of our project Line in the Sand: Dilemmas That Define Us, we were joined by two of the researchers on that study.

Valorie Crooks is a professor of geography who heads the Medical Tourism Research Group at Simon Fraser University.

Jeremy Snyder is a member of the group and a bioethicist at SFU.

They were in Vancouver.

Panel: Greg MacDougall / Ramesh Prasad

Canadians represent a significant proportion of the patients who head to Mexico for procedures such as bariatric surgery that are wait-listed here at home. One doctor estimates Canadians make up 30 per cent or more of his caseload.

The CBC's Deborah Wilson followed one patient's journey for weight loss surgery in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Patti Saurette received follow-up care from her Canadian doctor. But that doesn't always happen.

When Brian Pinch, from Victoria B.C., decided to leave Canada for a resurfacing operation for his hip, he was taken aback by the reaction from his orthopedic specialist.

The prospect of providing follow-up care for procedures conducted outside the country can pose dilemmas for Canadian doctors. Each of our guests have been in this position.

Greg MacDougall is a general practitioner in Victoria.

And Ramesh Prasad is a nephrologist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto who has co-authored studies about Canadians who have traveled abroad for kidney transplants.

This segment was produced by The Current's Dawna Dingwall.

Other segments from today's show:

Breach of Trust & the Canadian Military

The implications of the Italian elections

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