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Donald W. Light, PhD

Donald W. Light

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Description of Bioethics Expertise

Professor of Comparative Health Care

Lokey Visiting Professor
Stanford University
Tel:(609) 216-0071

Distributive justice issues concerning access to health care services and pharmaceuticals; Comparative health care services and policy; Medical and economic sociology

Trained as a sociologist at the University of Chicago and Brandeis, Professor Light has had a long interest in the social context and dynamics of ethics. His first book, Becoming Psychiatrists: the Professional Transformation of Self, concerned the changing values of residents, including “the moral career of the psychiatric resident” and the moral dynamics of suicide care.

In the 1990s, Professor Light wrote increasingly about the ethics of commercial health insurance and the clash between two concepts of fairness, actuarial and social fairness. This work led to his being selected as a fellow at Green College, Oxford, where he began his research on the reforms of the National Health Service and on the myths of markets in medicine. A second fellowship at Balliol College followed and then serving as the DeCamp visiting professor in bioethics at Princeton University in 1992-93.

Professor Light began collaborating with Norman Daniels on the idea of developing a metric of fairness that would specify what “fairness” really means in health care and would measure how fair different reforms or systems were. A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant led to the co-authored book, Benchmarks of Fairness for Health Care Reform (Oxford Un Press 1996). This work has been taken up by the WHO and developed by Daniels into guidelines which are now used in a number of countries for planning and allocation of resources.

As one of the founding fellows of the Center for Bioethics, Professor Light has continued exploring issues of distributive justice. He has tried to broaden the call for universal access to health care to involve conservatives and people of faith. Why, for example, do most conservatives in every other industrialized country support universal access while American conservatives do not? What Biblical texts speak to this issue? Light has written a series of short articles opening new grounds for dialogue. A second set of issues concerns the high prices of patented drugs or vaccines and the increasingly troubled relationships between the pharmaceutical industry and society. He has first concentrated on demythologizing the pillars of pharmaceutical and vaccine policies in order to create a more realistic foundation for future work.


Forthcoming book: The Risk of Prescription Drugs, explains how they have become a leading cause of hospitalization and death. Columbia University Press, 2010.

Advanced Market Commitments: Current Realities and Alternate Approaches

Ethical Standards for Healthcare Journal Editors: A Case Report and Recommendations

Foreign Free Riders and the High Prices of U.S. Patented Drugs

Basic research funds to discover important new drugs: Who contributes how much?

Misleading Congress about Drug Development

Pricing Pharmaceutical Drugs in the USA

Making Practical Markets for Vaccines

Immoral Nations? Free Riders on American Drug Research & Innovation?

Promoting Free Global Markets in Prescripting Drugs: Demythologizing the Myths of "Price Controls" vs "Free Market"
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Last updated: 12/10/2009
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