Recently on Portfolio’s Odd Numbers blog, Zubin Jelveh pointed to a working paper from two economists at the University of Chicago (pdf) that examined the costs and benefits of an FDA program aimed at speeding up the review process of new drugs. The authors figure that the benefit of this program has been somewhere between $18 billion and $31 billion, while the cost has been 55,600 life-years lost (worth somewhere between $5.6 billion and $16.6 billion). And given the difference in the cost and benefit, they conclude the program has been a good thing.
Let’s look at this a little differently, though. We’re essentially talking about trading a certain group of life-years that probably wouldn’t have otherwise been in jeopardy for another set of life-years that probably weren’t going to otherwise exist. And that prompts the question: is a life-year taken worth the same as a life-year added? They may be equal economically, but are they morally?