The 7th Annual Program in Ethics and Health Conference, on “Identified versus Statistical Lives: Ethics and Public Policy,” will take place Thursday, April 19, and Friday, April 20, 2012, co-sponsored by the Harvard Global Health Institute, the Harvard University Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, the Center for Health Decision Science at the School of Public Health, and the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies . The first day of the conference will be held in the Longwood Medical Area in Boston, and the second day in Cambridge, signaling the cross-cutting importance of this topic to all segments of the University.
The conference focuses 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 save more statistical lives. What factors trigger or explain this difference in attitude and behavior? How is it manifest 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?