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How do people value life?

Abstract

Who should be saved when health resources are limited? Although bioethicists and policymakers continue to debate which metric should be used to evaluate health interventions, public policy is also subject to public opinion. We investigated how the public values life when evaluating vaccine-allocation policies during a flu epidemic. We found that people's ratings of the acceptability of policies were dramatically influenced by question framing. When policies were described in terms of lives saved, people judged them on the basis of the number of life years gained. In contrast, when the policies were described in terms of lives lost, people considered the age of the policy's beneficiaries, taking into account the number of years lived to prioritize young targets for the health intervention. In addition, young targets were judged as more valuable in general, but young participants valued young targets even more than older participants did.

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