Expressing suicides in money: “Everyone counts for one, and nobody for more than one”

At the beginning of November, Deloitte published a report on an investigation into the social costs of suicide. The outcome? The costs run up to €5 billion per year and up to €2.8 million per suicide. The research was carried out at the request of the 113 Suicide Prevention Foundation. This way, the foundation aims to draw the attention of the government to combat the abstract approach to new policy making that is still very common. Martin Buijsen, Professor of Health Law at Erasmus School of Law, understands the cry for help from the foundation, but has serious reservations about this approach and speaks out about this in Trouw.

Buijsen explains that this approach, in which human lives are expressed in money, originates from utilitarianism. This is the philosophical movement in which attention is paid to social benefit and everyone's contribution to it. “That way of thinking is common in the health sector. Health economists calculate which therapy you should or should not include in a certain package. You express this in so called qalys (quality-adjusted life years): what can a healthy extra year of life cost? This is an attractive approach for those who face policy questions: they can compare the price tags”, according to Buijsen.

 

Buijsen is highly skeptical about this approach. “You should not want to translate a human life into euros. Foundation 113 should not aim to do that either, because then you turn someone's significance into an economic story", says Buijsen. This way of thinking suits modern utilitarians, but Buijsen does not agree with this philosophy. The approach of the first utilitarian, the British lawyer Jeremy Bentham, fits his convictions better. “He was convinced that advantages and disadvantages could be expressed in units, but not a human life. He calculated that differently: everyone counts for one, and nobody for more than one”, says Buijsen.

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Read the full article in Trouw here (in Dutch).

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