Health policy approaches to measuring and valuing human life: conceptual and ethical issues

Am J Public Health. 1995 Oct;85(10):1356-60. doi: 10.2105/ajph.85.10.1356.


To achieve more cost-effective and equitable use of health resources, improved methods for defining disease burdens and for guiding resource allocations are needed by health care decision makers. Three approaches are discussed that use indicators that combine losses due to disability with losses due to premature mortality as a measure of disease burden. These indicators can also serve as outcome measures for health status in economic analyses. However, their use as tools for measuring and valuing human life raises important questions concerning the measurement of mortality and the multidimensions of morbidity; valuing of life, particularly regarding weighting productivity, dependency, age, and time-preference factors; and conflicts between equity and efficiency that arise in allocation decisions. Further refinement of these tools is needed to (1) incorporate national and local values into weighting; (2) elaborate methods for disaggregating calculations to assess local disease patterns and intervention packages; and (3) develop guidelines for estimating marginal effects and costs of interventions. Of utmost importance are methods that ensure equity while achieving reasonable efficiency.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cost of Illness
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Disabled Persons
  • Efficiency, Organizational
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Health Care Rationing / standards*
  • Health Policy / economics*
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Internationality
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years*
  • Resource Allocation*
  • Social Justice
  • Social Values
  • Value of Life*
  • Vulnerable Populations