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ERC-European Research Council (ERC)

ETHME: The Ethics of Mortality Measurement

Awarded: NOK 17.1 mill.


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2024 - 2029


There are around 55 million deaths in the world each year. How should we evaluate these deaths? Diseases and injuries give rise to both morbidity and mortality. Until the 1950s, epidemiologists were concerned with counting the number of deaths. Since then, evaluative measures concerned with the disvalue of death have grown. In parallel, there has been a debate in analytic philosophy since the 1970s that concerns whether death can harm those who die. The philosophers in this latter debate have not focused on deaths at a population level. In all societies, the demand for health care exceeds the available resources. However, to prioritize scarce resources in a consistent and meaningful manner, we need reliable health measurements to begin with. In society, we use considerable resources to prevent deaths, and the majority of the global disease burden springs from mortality rather than morbidity. Thus, it is remarkable that so few resources are used to provide theoretically robust death measurements. People's attitudes toward death are naturally ambivalent. On the one hand, death is the worst thing that can happen to us. On the other hand, death is nothing to us. Sophisticated methods have been developed to measure morbidity. Such work remains for mortality. There have been almost no cross-fertilizations between epidemiology and philosophy regarding mortality measurement. Accordingly, ETHME announces the ethics of mortality measurement as a novel and developing field within the philosophy of epidemiology. The core objectives of ETHME are to (a) develop and refine the understanding of the nature of the harm of death, (b) reconcile the evaluation of deaths in summary measures of population health with the most promising accounts of the harm of death, and (c) develop a theoretical grounding for evaluating procreation in future individuals. One work package will be devoted to each objective (WP1–WP3).

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ERC-European Research Council (ERC)

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