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The disvalue of death in the global burden of disease
  1. Carl Tollef Solberg1,
  2. Ole Frithjof Norheim1,
  3. Mathias Barra2
  1. 1 Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care, Global Health Priorities, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway
  2. 2 Health Services Research Unit (HØKH), Akershus University Hospital, Lørenskog, Norway
  1. Correspondence to Dr Carl Tollef Solberg, Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care, Global Health Priorities, University of Bergen, Postboks 7804, Bergen N-5020, Norway; carl.solberg{at}


In the Global Burden of Disease study, disease burden is measured as disability-adjusted life years (DALYs). The paramount assumption of the DALY is that it makes sense to aggregate years lived with disability (YLDs) and years of life lost (YLLs). However, this is not smooth sailing. Whereas morbidity (YLD) is something that happens to an individual, loss of life itself (YLL) occurs when that individual’s life has ended. YLLs quantify something that involves no experience and does not take place among living individuals. This casts doubt on whether the YLL is an individual burden at all. If not, then YLDs and YLLs are incommensurable. There are at least three responses to this problem, only one of which is tenable: a counterfactual account of harm. Taking this strategy necessitates a re-examination of how we count YLLs, particularly at the beginning of life.

  • concept of health
  • death
  • epidemiology
  • perinatal mortality
  • quality/value of life/personhood

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  • Contributors CTS had the initial idea, with input from OFN and MB. CTS and MB drafted the manuscript, and OFN revised it along the way. The three authors regularly met for work sessions. MB drafted the figures and tables, and CTS made revisions. All authors subsequently read, revised and approved the final manuscript.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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