Monday, September 15, 2014

Crowdfunding and Medical Philanthropy

Crowdfunding site GoFundMe recently removed the funding page for a person looking to crowdfund her abortion.  Past crowdfunding campaigns have funded fertility treatmentsgender confirmation surgeries, organ transplants, and other medical procedures and treatments.  Watsi is an entire crowdfnding platform dedicated to financing medical care for patients through donations.  While I usually research and write about crowdfunding business entities and projects, the crowdfunding of medical procedures and treatments has gotten more and more traction with those needing or wanting financial assistance for expensive medical care.  It seemed like a good time to say something about it . . . .  But what to say?

First, descriptively, there's the matter of classification.  This type of crowdfunding is donation crowdfunding.  Folks are giving money to these crowdfunding campaigns without any expectation or possibility of financial return.  The return, as with other philanthropic activities, is social, psychological, and emotional, rather than financial.

Second, apart from the Internet component, medical philanthropy is not a new phenomenon.  A Forbes piece outlines the basic dilemma--the rising cost of heath care leaves many families wanting--even bankrupt--when it comes to securing payment for important medical procedures and treatments.  Churches, charities, and private groups and individuals, often assisted by the news media or electronic communication, have raised funds for medical care for patients and families in need for a number of years.  The movement of these fundraising efforts to the crowdfunding space was seemingly inevitable when seen in that light.

Having said that, the extension of these campaigns to procedures and treatments that the public finds more controversial has brought new attention to the entire medical philanthropy phenomenon--and the crowdfunding component of it in particular.  What is the ethics of crowdfunding medical procedures and treatments?  What other issues raise eyebrows that may not reach the ethical dimension?  Questions may vary based on the policies of the crowdfunding site, the nature of the crowdfunding campaign, and the type of procedure or treatment for which funds are being raised (among other things).  And the relative comfort or discomfort--ethical or other--with any of these factors is undoubtedly different from person to person.

News stories published in recent months by The Guardian and CBS News offer perspectives on some of these questions.  The latter notes that a medical ethics expert found "no ethical or moral issue with someone trying to do what they need to do to raise money for medical care."  That may be (likely is) right, but certainly the moral sensibilities of some people are offended by the crowdfunding of some medical procedures or treatments.

At GoFundMe, it's become a business issue.  The site has content guidelines, and these guidelines have been revised to exclude abortion crowdfunding.  Specifically, content on GoFundMe now may not include: 

  • Suicides or assisted suicides
  • Abortions (human or animal)
  • Ending the life of an animal
  • Content associated with or relating to any of the items above.

Some may question that approach, and the HuffPost published a piece detailing some of the negative social media responses to the changed policy a few days ago.  They are pretty raw, in some cases.

What do you think?  Are the controversies involving crowdfunded medical care a squall or tempest in the crowdfunding teapot? Do they represent opportunities for crowdfunding sites to specialize and differentiate (since, as one site excludes business of some kind, another may pick it up and run with it)?  For me, this will be an interesting crowdfunding story to follow.

Current Affairs, Joan Heminway, Web/Tech | Permalink


For me, crowdfunding of medical procedures seems like a really scattershot way for private individuals to make up for a lack of proper health insurance.

Posted by: Ann Lipton | Sep 16, 2014 1:54:59 AM

No doubt, Ann. A number of the articles written on medical care crowdfunding note this. And many of the same issues regarding the nature of the procedures, treatments, and health care contexts covered (or not) by health insurance also arise in this context.

Posted by: joanheminway | Sep 16, 2014 5:49:21 AM

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