August 17, 2006

What is the value of human life?

Some of you might respond to this question simply by saying that it is priceless. You may suggest that life is a gift that can not be bought or sold for any amount of money. I contend that human life has a finite value. Take, for example, a severe illness has bestowed itself on a dear family member. What price would you be willing to pay to save that person’s life? What if the disease necessitated a $10,000 operation? Would you pay it? What about $100,000? Even with fundraising, insurance and loans, there eventually becomes a price that is just too much to pay. The maximum amount that could be afforded is then the value of that life.

But the real depth to this concept isn’t the price you would pay for a loved one; it’s the price you wouldn’t pay for someone else. Are some people’s lives worth more than others? Consider if the sick individual wasn’t a relative. What if the person was actually a child, half a world away, in a developing country? Would you pay the same amount to save their life? As the commercials and NGO’s insist, often times it only a few hundred dollars to save a persons life from malnourishment and diseases that have been eradicated in the western world. So is a relative’s life worth the lives of tens or hundreds of others?

The value of one’s life is determined by a few factors. Individuals may vary in value by their earning potential. Someone who is well educated with an established career has more earning potential than a hobo, for example. Our value is also established by the people around us. Our social value to our family, friends and community is an important factor. A person who is well liked has more redeeming value than someone despised by all.

In this world, we’re not created equal. Our value is determined on where we live, what we do, and who is important to us. How much I may value an individual’s life could be vastly different from your valuation. Regardless, it shows that human life is not priceless in a monetary sense, nor is it uniform across the human population.

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