The Feinberg Institute: Life, Value and Compensation Studies

University of Massachusetts Amherst
Amherst, Massachusetts
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Feinberg Distinguished Scholar in Residence
to Examine the Value of Human Life

The Feinberg Institute is launching an annual, one-week scholar-in-residence program in which an eminent figure will study, speak, and teach about how societies value human life.

2008-09 Feinberg Family
Distinguished Lecture Series

Measuring the Value of Human Life, a year-long lecture series grounded in the work of Ken Feinberg '67, engages scholarship in history, bioethics, legal studies, the arts, and other realms to explore how value has been ascribed to human lives in courtrooms, labs, archives, boardrooms, and universities.

How much is a human life worth?
What if it’s someone you love?


“I wish my dad were here. Before he died, life was fun, exciting, and interesting. Even if everything else went wrong, we had each other. Now my life has completely changed.”

Son of a 9/11 victim

An act of tragic violence, indifference, or incompetence occurs—and suddenly a life is lost or damaged forever. A loved one who is needed and relied upon is gone. Should there be compensation? How do we calculate it and measure the worth of that lost life in dollars and cents? How do we balance multiple personal, legal, economic, social, and ethical considerations to determine a fair monetary amount? How should public policy respond?

These are age-old questions. But in our times, large-scale catastrophes and personal tragedies have brought new urgency to them. From the Holocaust and September 11th to everyday decisions on maintaining a life or preventing harm, the need to develop sound public policy on valuing human life has become essential.

The Feinberg Institute is committed to answering this need.

Named for and inspired by the experience of Kenneth R. Feinberg, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Class of ’67, who oversaw the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, the Institute is pioneering a unique field of research and scholarship that will guide policymakers, the legal community, decision makers, and others as they grapple with the question, “How much is a life worth?”

You can take part in meeting this timely challenge.

Creating a critical new field of knowledge


“If gold is the best we have in this world, she was gold. If there’s something better than gold, my wife was that.”

Husband of a 9/11 victim

The Feinberg Institute’s groundbreaking Executive Retreat attracted a U.S. Supreme Court Justice and a White House Chief of Staff as well as scholars from noted think tanks and professors and leaders from esteemed universities. Together, these exceptional individuals explored the philosophical, technical, legal, economic, and ethical underpinnings of setting a value on a human life. The Institute will continue to grow this body of knowledge and provide a thoughtful basis for applying it to real-world situations.

The Institute’s ongoing activities include:

Making a difference in how we value life

“My husband was not a statistic. He was a living, breathing, awesome person, who put his heart and soul into everything he did… No amount of money can ever replace the life of my husband or ease the pain within my heart.”

Wife of a 9/11 victim

Year after year, The Feinberg Institute will:

Help us create an enduring resource that politicians, jurists, CEOs, and decision makers can consult.

The Love Canal and Agent Orange cases were among the first large-scale personal injury suits that challenged decision makers to transform degrees of personal catastrophe, causal responsibility, and individual worth into a neat equation. They had no academically grounded policies to guide them.

Each of The Feinberg Institute’s diverse initiatives—scholarship, publications, events, and global library—requires substantial funding to be successful.

We invite your support.

By choosing to give to The Feinberg Institute, you help ensure this critical mission is accomplished. You also create an enduring symbol of your commitment to the value of human life.