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Societal Economic Costs and Benefits from Death: Another Look

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B. Yang and D. Lester (2007) have produced an innovative contribution to the relevant literature. Unlike previous studies, they incorporate estimates of cost savings from suicide. Their argument could be strengthened in 3 ways. First, they may have underestimated some of the cost savings by relying on inflated estimates of mental health usage by suicidal persons. The present analysis shows that only 20% of suicidal individuals see a mental health professional during the last year of life, much lower than previous estimates. Further, persons dying of cancer are 4 times more likely than suicides to report high usage of medical services. Second, our economy relies heavily on the health care sector for job creation, so that we need to exercise caution in interpreting savings in medical care; such savings may also represent costs in employment opportunities for nurses, doctors, and other medical personnel. Third, an anticipated criticism, the costs of the grieving of significant others, needs to be considered. Suicidal persons are shown to have less dense social networks, a sign of fewer potential grievers than in the case of natural deaths. Future work is needed to adjust lost earnings for the lower occupational status of suicides; this is another reason why Yang and Lester may be underestimating cost savings from suicide.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Criminal Justice, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, USA

Publication date: April 1, 2007

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