Is there a right to access innovative surgery?

Denise Meyerson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Demands for access to experimental therapies are frequently framed in the language of rights. This article examines the justifiability of such demands in the specific context of surgical innovations, these being promising but non-validated and potentially risky departures from standard surgical practices. I argue that there is a right to access innovative surgery, drawing analogies with other generally accepted rights in medicine, such as the right not to be forcibly treated, to buy contraceptives, and to choose to have an abortion, including a post-viability abortion where the mother's life or health is threatened by the pregnancy. I argue that we accept these rights because we believe that people are entitled to try to preserve their lives and health and to make choices of an important and intensely personal kind, and I suggest that a person's choice of medical treatment should be seen in the same light. However, since few rights are absolute, I also consider the circumstances in which it may be justifiable to limit the right to access innovative surgery. In discussing this question, I apply the human rights standard of proportionality, comparing the importance of the reasons for limiting the right with the severity of the invasion on liberty.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)342-352
Number of pages11
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015


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