“Who Cares” if Dying People Die of Heat?


A reader forwards an article that analyzes how many Europeans die of heat in a bad summer. That’s an issue onto itself. For example, I recall the 2003 heat wave when about 14,000 mostly elderly French died in August because no one was looking out for them during the August vacation season.

In any event, a bioethicist from the Netherlands shrugs off the heat-related deaths of those who were close to dying. From the Wall Street Journal’s “Numbers Guy” column:

To some researchers, though, the raw count of how many people are killed in a heat wave overstates its public-health impact. They have found what is called displaced mortality, or, more morbidly, a harvesting effect. In other words, death rates surge during a heat wave but then dip, according to these findings, which implies that the heat killed people who were already close to death and would have died soon after.

“Generally it is not our aim to avoid deaths, because eventually people will die,” said Anton E. Kunst, associate professor in public health at the University of Amsterdam. “It is to lengthen life. From this perspective, heat-related mortality becomes less important if it mainly affects people who are anyhow at the end of their lives.”

Well, maybe not to you, pal. But I’ll bet it matters to the people who die of the heat and their families.