June 24, 1988

Quantitative Risk Assessment: Biomedical Ethics Reviews—1986

Author Affiliations

Kennedy Institute of Ethics Georgetown University Washington, DC

Kennedy Institute of Ethics Georgetown University Washington, DC


edited by James M. Humber and Robert F. Almeder (Biomedical Ethics Reviews, J. M. Humber and R. F. Almeder, eds; conference, September 1985), 278 pp, with illus, $35, Clifton, NJ, Humana Press, 1987.

JAMA. 1988;259(24):3629. doi:10.1001/jama.1988.03720240081051

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The current issue of Biomedical Ethics Reviews is devoted to one nonclinical topic: quantitative risk assessment

(QRA) as used by government agencies and others attempting to quantify the risks associated with environmental and public health practices. It contains papers from a September 1985 conference. The two-part volume first presents four accounts by practicing risk analysts and then five commentaries by philosophers attuned to the ethical, epistemological, and other philosophical questions raised by QRA.

The authors are unanimous in one conclusion: risk assessment necessarily involves assumptions, evaluations, or subjective judgments, at least at some point. The practitioners show that countless assumptions necessarily must be made: assumptions about conceptualizing the problem, modeling the risks, choosing the proper animal models, criteria for statistical analysis, methods for extrapolating to low-dose exposure. Inherently evaluative judgments must be made about how serious harms are and even whether they are harms or benefits. These papers provide intriguing