Valuing Stillbirths

Bioethics 29 (6):413-423 (2015)
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Estimates of the burden of disease assess the mortality and morbidity that affect a population by producing summary measures of health such as quality-adjusted life years and disability-adjusted life years. These measures typically do not include stillbirths among the negative health outcomes they count. Priority-setting decisions that rely on these measures are therefore likely to place little value on preventing the more than three million stillbirths that occur annually worldwide. In contrast, neonatal deaths, which occur in comparable numbers, have a substantial impact on burden of disease estimates and are commonly seen as a pressing health concern. In this article we argue in favor of incorporating unintended fetal deaths that occur late in pregnancy into estimates of the burden of disease. Our argument is based on the similarity between late-term fetuses and newborn infants and the assumption that protecting newborns is important. We respond to four objections to counting stillbirths: that fetuses are not yet part of the population and so their deaths should not be included in measures of population health; that valuing the prevention of stillbirths will undermine women's reproductive rights; that including stillbirths implies that miscarriages should also be included; and that birth itself is in fact ethically significant. We conclude that our proposal is ethically preferable to current practice and, if adopted, is likely to lead to improved decisions about health spending
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