Costa Rica cracks down on stem cell tourism

Costa Rica, increasingly known as a haven for medical tourism, is putting a stop to one controversial practice:   The health ministry last month ordered the country’s largest stem cell clinic to stop offering treatments, arguing there is no evidence that the treatments work or are safe. "If (stem cell treatment’s) efficiency and safety has ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Darren Hauck/Getty Images
Darren Hauck/Getty Images
Darren Hauck/Getty Images

Costa Rica, increasingly known as a haven for medical tourism, is putting a stop to one controversial practice:

 

The health ministry last month ordered the country's largest stem cell clinic to stop offering treatments, arguing there is no evidence that the treatments work or are safe.

Costa Rica, increasingly known as a haven for medical tourism, is putting a stop to one controversial practice:

 

The health ministry last month ordered the country’s largest stem cell clinic to stop offering treatments, arguing there is no evidence that the treatments work or are safe.

"If (stem cell treatment’s) efficiency and safety has not been proven, we don’t believe it should be used," said Dr. Ileana Herrera, chief of the ministry’s research council. "As a health ministry, we must always protect the human being.

The clinic’s owner, Arizona entrepreneur Neil Riordan, told Reuters he closed the clinic and admitted the treatments, involving the removal and re-injection of stem cells, had not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"I think her point was that it is not FDA approved," he said in a telephone interview from Panama.

The ministry said the clinic had a permit to store the adult stem cells, extracted from patients’ own fat tissue, bone marrow and donated umbilical cords, but is not authorized to perform the treatment.

Riordan has patients suffering from multiple sclerosis and other forms of paralysis who are coming to his defense, but the evidence that his treatments work is mostly anecdotal. It certainly makes sense that the Costa Rican government doesn’t want to be held liable for an unproven treatment, but with patients becoming more comfortable with medical tourism, you can expect similar clinics to open elsewhere. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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