The Harvard Global Health Institute Recent Conference – 7th Annual Program in Ethics and Health: Identified Lives vs. Statistical Lives – Ethics and Public Policy
The Harvard Global Health Institute in collaboration with the Petrie-Flom Center and numerous other partners convened a University-wide program focusing on how decision makers and the public tend to feel more strongly obligated to assist “identified” people at risk than to assist “statistical” ones, and the implications for public policy. To illustrate, when a group of Chilean miners were stranded following a 2010 mine accident, the rescue mission garnered worldwide support and millions of dollars, but the public had not felt a similar need to invest in mine safety measures that would have saved more statistical lives. The conference examined questions such as what factors trigger or explain this difference in attitude and behavior; how is it manifested when we think about global health problems, such as treatment and prevention (and “treatment as prevention”) for HIV/AIDS; does the law express such bias; is there any ethical justification for this bias, for example, as a matter of obligation toward each and every individual? Is it, alternatively, a moral error, rooted in well-known cognitive biases?