Doctors with Borders? An Authority-based Approach to the Brain Drain

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Abstract
According to the brain drain argument, there are good reasons for states to limit the exit of their skilled workers (more specifically, healthcare workers), because of the negative impacts this type of migration has for other members of the community from which they migrate. Some theorists criticise this argument as illiberal, while others support it and ground a duty to stay of the skilled workers on rather vague concepts like patriotic virtue, or the legitimate expectations of their state and co-citizens. In this article, on the contrary, we suggest that the liberal conception of states’ legitimate political authority demands, and not just permits, that developing states from which migration of skilled workers occurs set up contractual mechanisms. These mechanisms will ensure that state-funded training in the health sector is provided against a commitment on the part of future professionals to reciprocate with their services for the benefits obtained. If one of the conditions for the state to maintain legitimate political authority is to provide basic services such as healthcare to its subjects (while respecting at the same time their autonomy and freedom), then this is what developing states affected by the brain drain ought to do. What we call the authority-based approach to the brain drain also helps to clarify the obligations that other states have not to interfere with these contractual mechanisms when they exist, and not to profit from their absence. Inspired by FIFA’s legal instruments of training compensation and solidarity mechanism for the transfer of players, we conclude by suggesting a plausible global policy to complement this authority-based approach.
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Archival date: 2017-05-18
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