On Medical Tourism For Stem Cell Therapies

Over at Singularity Hub, you'll find a good general interest article on medical tourism and stem cell therapies. Absent a revolution, competition between regulatory regions is the only thing likely to shake up the sorry state of medical development in the US. Five years, a decade, or longer might pass these days between the early commercial availability of new therapies overseas and their final and expensive passage through the FDA course of hurdles and obstacles. But when responsible companies are regularly offering safe (and much cheaper) therapies in India, Vietnam, and China years ahead of their availability in the US, something has to give.

You can’t keep a good thing down. When the US restricted stem cell research in the early part of the century that research didn’t die, it emigrated. All over the world, scientists continued to explore the efficacies of embryonic and adult stem cells with astonishing results. Now, as the public becomes increasingly aware of these "miracle" treatments, the demand for stem cell therapies has increased far beyond what institutionalized Western medicine seems able to immediately provide. The result is both exhilarating and terrifying: more and more patients from the US and Europe are traveling abroad to seek stem cell treatments. This is just a tiny fraction of the ever increasing flood of medical tourism that has struck the West. Companies like Atlanta based Global Surgery Providers (GSP) are marketing directly to patients, facilitating travel for medical procedures including stem cell transplants. While governments, doctors, and patients are still struggling to understand the dangers and advantages of medical tourism, it continues to grow. One thing is for certain, no matter what any one institution may try to do to control the use of stem cells, the demand for this technology is too strong to be stopped.

As the article goes on to note, a wide range of interested parties in the US advocate against medical tourism; to hear them speak, anything less than the full FDA process of years, trials, and tens of millions of dollars will lead to anarchy, and all providers outside the US are evil snake-oil salesmen. Nothing could be further from the truth. Less regulated markets have their own for-profit watchdogs, and aggressive competition shakes out fraud and failure much more rapidly than regulators. In a regulated market, fraud and failure become a part of the landscape, supported by the regulators. Rather than small opportunists trying to put one over on a handful of people until discovered, you'll see massive entities engaged in shaping regulations over years and decades to their advantage, covering up and excusing extensive abuses with the regulator's aid, and so forth.

Look at the shoes on your feet - they are pretty essential for most people. Absent shoes, you would struggle more than you would like. But when was the last time you had a serious issue with fraud in the shoe market? When was the last time you had any sort of issue in the shoe market? Yet it is as free as any market is likely to be these days. The average person is likely to think little about dealing with shoe shopping and a lot about dealing with minor medical issues - and that is a mark of the level of regulator-induced dysfunction in the medical industry. If you are perfectly happy with the state of the shoe marketplace, but believe that heavy regulation is required for medicine, then you should probably take a closer look at your axioms.


You asked about serious issues with fraud in the shoe market.Well before we de-regulate medical
treatments you should read this.


The report warns about toxic metals and plastics
found in shoes made overseas.

I for one will not be first in line to receive unregulated stem cell treatments from the same profitears that decided it was ok to put lead in toys.
Did the U.S economic meltdown or Enron scam not clearly teach us all that letting the market regulate itself is not a good idea?
If you wish to trust for-profit watchdogs with your heath then be prepared to be one of the idividuals that gets a death dealing snake oil injected.

Posted by: jim at March 2nd, 2010 4:37 PM
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