Experts Discuss the Ethics of Online Crowdfunding for Medical Costs

March 16, 2015 in News

Individuals are increasingly turning to online crowdfunding to pay for medical expenses, but some experts worry the practice promotes inequality in the health care system, The Atlantic reports.

Crowdfunding Website Details

Crowdfunding websites — such as YouCaring, GoFundMe and Indiegogo Life — host thousands of pages created by individuals seeking financial help with medical expenses for various health care services. Through the websites, friends and family members can stay updated on an individual’s health status. In addition, people can log on and make a donation to help individuals they have never met.

For example, a couple in 2013 turned to for help in raising $250,000 to fund a bone-marrow transplant for their son. The couple’s insurance would not cover the entire cost of the transplant, which doctors said was the only long-term solution to their son’s condition. The couple said hospitals actively pushed them to seek outside help through fundraising efforts.

Concerns, Ethical Questions Raised

Margaret Moon, a bioethicist and professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University, noted that crowdfunding rewards the archetype of the “perfect victim” — a person who had done everything right but still came up short through bad luck or bad health coverage.

However, not everyone has equal access to such sites, according to The Atlantic. In 2014, GoFundMe shut down the page of a woman collecting money for an abortion she could not afford.

In a statement explaining the decision, the company said “We do not permit crowdfunding campaigns that could be considered divisive to our community.”

Elizabeth Yuko, a bioethicist at Fordham University’s Center for Ethics Education, also expressed concerns about equal access, saying, “In order to create these profiles, you have to have access to a computer, you have to be relatively tech-savvy.”

Further, Yuko raised questions about patient privacy. She said that online crowdfunding for services such as in-vitro fertilization, means “[t]here will be children whose personal information is out there on the Internet already, and the parents won’t have the control they would normally have in that situation.”

Meanwhile, Moon also questioned what the presence of online crowdfunding says about the U.S. health care system. She said, “If someone’s raising money to cover the cost of cancer treatment, the question that raises on the other side is, ‘why is our health care system not paying for necessary care?’” She added, “There’s a concern that it will become a pop-off valve for a health care system that’s not doing its job” (Romm, The Atlantic, 3/12).

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