Valuing the Unidentified: The Potential of Public Health Law

24 Pages Posted: 28 Jun 2013 Last revised: 26 Jul 2013

See all articles by Wendy E. Parmet

Wendy E. Parmet

Northeastern University - School of Law

Date Written: 2013


Social scientists have long recognized the strong tendency to preference identified over unidentified or merely statistical victims. This so-called unidentified lives phenomenon is visible in many areas of U.S. law and policy, including health law and policy. This article looks at public health law’s potential to serve as a counter-balance to this phenomenon. The article argues that public health law — with its roots in a preliberal vision of the police power, and its close association with public health practice, which emphasizes preventing disease in populations — stands apart from much of American law by focusing on the interests of unidentified lives. The article also discusses recent trends in public health practice and broader developments in American jurisprudence that are limiting public health law’s ability to protect the health of the unidentified, but concludes that public health law nevertheless offers both historical and rhetorical support for valuing the lives and interests of not-yet-identified victims.

Suggested Citation

Parmet, Wendy E., Valuing the Unidentified: The Potential of Public Health Law (2013). Jurimetrics, Vol. 53, No. 3, pp. 255-277, 2013; Northeastern University School of Law Research Paper No. 147-2013. Available at SSRN:

Wendy E. Parmet (Contact Author)

Northeastern University - School of Law ( email )

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