October 11, 2014
The Value of Life
How should our society assign value to a human life? Should people assign a monetary value to a human life? In excerpts from radically different viewpoints from the optimistic Lance Armstrong to the pessimistic outlook of Hamlet, the tragic events of 9/11, to the cold Human Life Calculator readers are provided with examples on such thought provoking questions. Throughout the years, especially after the tragedy that occurred on September 11, 2001, people have wondered the answers to these questions. In modern days, people believe that the loved ones of someone who has passed should be compensated for their loss. But unlike a diamond, life should not have a set value. We can take a look at the moral issues of whether or not there should be a financial value for a life, how illness can impact the value of life, and finally examine the flaws in the criteria for a monetary value of a life that is already established.
To begin, how much is your life worth to you? On the face, it may seem like an idiotic question. However, our government sets a price for each human life. The Environmental Protection Agency set an exact value about four years ago: $6.1 million. They came to the conclusion of this price while they were deciding how far to go in removing arsenic from drinking water. Arsenic can cause disease, such as bladder cancer, that may kill you. It was discovered that, reducing the arsenic in drinking water gets increasingly more expensive as the amount of poison reaches zero. How many dollars should be spent to save a life? The answer led the people at the Environmental Protection Agency to come to the conclusion of $6.1 million. They were not the only ones having to do such calculations. The Department of Transportation also has to decide the monetary value of a life when deciding which road improvements are worth making. (Appelbaum 11) Kenneth Feinburg was confronted with the question we are now asking ourselves, what is the value of a human life? Feinburg is an attorney in Washington, who was given the job of managing the compensation funds for the 9/11 victims and the Virginia Tech shootings. He also has worked with victims who suffered from Holocaust slave labor and experiments. When he was faced to make a decision, his moral conscious could not detour the compensations for these victims. However, instead of being able to give more money to a fireman or policeman, he was forced to give more money to those of higher financial worth. In dealing with the Virginia Tech case he stated, “My legal training should no longer stand in the way. This time all victims- students and faculty alike- would receive the same compensation.” Feinburg came to the conclusion that every life should be treated equally, therefore have the same worth. Who is to decide the worth of a human life based upon ones occupation and income? Is a banker worth more than a janitor? Critics find the idea of putting a financial worth on a human life preposterous. It is simply wrong, they say, to count death as a cost. For instance, illness can have a great impact on the value of a human life. (Ripley 12)
Second, people put more value on their lives when they come close to knocking on the doors of death. For example, those living with terminal illness like cancer, can have a whole different view of their life, and all of life in general compared to someone who is living a completely healthy life. In his autobiography, Lance Armstrong said, “When I was sick, I saw more beauty and triumph and truth in a single day than I ever did in a bike race, but they were human moments, not miraculous ones.” Lance Armstrong is one of the most successful and accomplished figures in the world, yet even to him, a day of simply living one more day means more than any of his accomplishments while living with cancer.
Roger Ebert also had a similar experience when he ironically had to have his jaw removed. After having such a long prosperous career of being a movie critic, people thought it would come to an end. Yet, he proved us wrong. “Ebert takes joy from the world in nearly all the ways he once did. He has had to find a new way to laugh- by closing his eyes and slapping both hands on his knees- but he still laughs,” (Jones 10) he used this impediment to look at life in a grand way, and to value his life so much more since he is aware of his dying increments. Having everything may make one value their life in greater depth, but the fear of losing that everything they have worked for makes them value it even more. However, while a person may assign the value of their life based on the obstacles they have overcame and learned from, society’s way of determining the value of life under the terms of which life is actually worth more in dollars. It’s unfortunate but there are too many instances in life where one person’s life is considered with higher value than others simply because of what they have and what they are willing to show for it. Revealing that there is some sort of flaws in the criteria that determines the worth of a human life.
Finally, we can pick out the flaws in the system that ultimately decides the financial worth of our lives. The Human Life Calculator helps figure out how much your family would receive if something unfortunate were to happen to you today. This calculator provides only a rough estimate of your human life, which concludes how much insurance you need. After figuring an income based on your circumstances, you’ll find a final estimate that provides an approximate measure of your life net contribution to your family, which is your human life value. This only takes generalities into account. This calculator is based upon how much income a person receives, if they are married, and the number of children they have. Instead of taking into account their annual income, we should shift our attention to what an individual may have contributed to our society throughout their lifetime. (Unknown 5)
Many people donate their time to organizations such as Red Cross, St. Jude’s Medical Center, and Cancer Society to help save people’s lives every day. Yet, according to the human life calculator, they would not be valued as much because they do not make a lot of money. On the human life calculator, someone who has not contributed to our society but who has won the lottery, would be worth more than a person who has donated countless hours of their whole life to helping our society. As you can see in the human life calculator, life should not be determined on purely the financial worth of someone but what a person can donate to their society.
In conclusion, we analyzed the question, how should society put a value to a human life? The answer was proven to be that we should not put a monetary value on a life. Through different texts such as; Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be”, Roger Ebert’s jawless journey, and the cold Human Calculator, it was proven true that life should be valued in terms of what a person has contributed to society, rather than their income. We took a look at the moral issues of whether or not there should be a monetary value for a life, how illness or suffering can impact the value of life and finally picked out the flaws of the existing criteria of determining a person’s worth. All in all, diamonds may have a set value, but a person should not be held at a certain financial worth no matter the income or occupation.
Appelbaum, Binyamin. “As U.S. Agencies Put More Value on a Life” New York Times, 2011. Armstrong, Lance, and Sally Jenkins. It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life. New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001. Jones, Chris. “Roger Ebert: The Essential Man” Esquire March 2010. Ripley, Amanda. “What is Life Worth?’ Time December 2002. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992. Unknown, Human Life Calculator. Life and Insurance Foundation for Education. November 14, 2005 http://www.life-line.org/lifehuman.html