Bergen Centre for Ethics and Priority Setting in Health (BCEPS)

Saving people from the harm of death

This is the first volume to connect philosophical discussions on the harm of death with discussions on population health, adjusting the ways in which death is evaluated. Edited by post doc in the GHP Research Group Carl Tollef Solberg and associated member of the group Espen Gamlund (professor in philosophy). Foreword by professor of Moral Philosophy Jeff McMahan.

Saving people from the harm of death, Oxford University Press
Saving people from the harm of death, Oxford University Press

Main content

Death is something we mourn or fear as the worst thing that could happen—whether the deaths of close ones, the deaths of strangers in reported accidents or tragedies, or our own. And yet, being dead is something that no one can experience and live to describe. This simple truth raises a host of difficult philosophical questions about the negativity surrounding our sense of death, and how and for whom exactly it is harmful. The question of whether death is bad has occupied philosophers for centuries, and the debate emerging in philosophical literature is referred to as the "badness of death." Are deaths primarily negative for the survivors, or does death also affect the deceased? What are the differences between death in fetal life, just after birth, or in adolescence? In order to properly evaluate deaths in global health, we must find answers to these questions.

Evaluation of death and its relevance for health policy

Changing the way in which death is evaluated has consequences for how we prioritize different health programs that affect individuals at different ages, as well as how we understand inequality in health. In this volume, leading philosophers, medical doctors, and economists discuss different views on this matter and its relevance for health policy. This includes theories about the harm of death and its connections to population-level bioethics. For example, one of the standard views in global health is that newborn deaths are among the worst types of death, yet stillbirths are neglected. This raises difficult questions about why birth is so significant, and several of the book's authors challenge this standard view.

Some of the core issues the book explores:

  • How to evaluate deaths in the contexts of global health and health priorities, and how to monitor sustainable development goals
  • Received notions on infant mortality, widening discussions to include stillbirths and newborn deaths
  • The difficult correlation between age and the "badness" of death.

The book is availeble here (order online and enter AMPROMD9 to save 30%). 

About the authors

Espen Gamlund is professor of philosophy at the University of Bergen, Norway. He specializes in moral philosophy and bioethics, and has published work on forgiveness, moral status of animals, death, and resource allocation in health. In addition, he has published on the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza. Gamlund also runs a philosophy blog (in Norwegian), and in 2015 he won The Faculty of Humanities' prize for his research dissemination.

Carl Tollef Solberg is a philosopher and medical doctor at the University of Bergen and the University of Oslo. He specializes in bioethics and medical ethics and has published work on priority setting in health care, death, and medical ethics. Further, he has worked at several clinical levels of the health care system. His research interests stand at the intersection of medicine and philosophy.