The Price of Human Life

wordcount: 787


I was educated by monks, and as good catholics we were always taught that you cannot put a price on human life; the value is decreed by God, and the price is infinite.  To outlaw murder and slavery, lawmakers make a similar calculation. On the other hand, if you were to weigh a body in, the scrap value in metals would not be much, despite the traces of exotic elements. Perhaps a couple of quid? True, harvesting body parts might put the price up, should there be buyers available.  But there might be misanthropes who would question any value at all, arguing that humans are but a plague on the planet, and Mother Earth would pay to be rid of us. So from negative value to limitless: we’ve a big range, and it would depend on who you ask, how and why. 

There is such a thing as a VSL …. this stands for Value of a Specific Life, and is an important and essential unit in considering the economics of health care, insurance, environmental planning and other issues on a national or even global scale. The current value is about £30,000 a year, or about £7 million for a whole life. Of course, there are many variables. In developing countries the value might be only one fifteenth of that, and within a developed country such as the UK, factors such as age and health might be considered for more particular purposes, such as insurance. Meanwhile, sub-Saharan Africans are apparently being sold as slaves openly in Libya at the moment … price between $100 to $500. Where ransom is possible, the price might go up, and if not met, then torture, rape and death is the reward. The refugee crisis that generates these exoduses is seen as a cursed by-product of war and famine, and the refugees themselves  as soaking up valuable capital

Meanwhile our own British press report that doctors at Ormond St Hospital are to be allowed to turn off the life support system for two year old Charlie Gard, despite his parents having raised over a million pounds to send the child for experimental treatment in the US. Here the question for the Court is not one of expense, but of the best interests of the child, measuring the potential suffering of the treatment against its dubious benefits.

Ha! I’ve just come across this, the start of an essay which I obviously lost interest in. I was probably going to compare the moral and societal interests of the issue before coming down quite heavily against the no doubt well-intentioned and distraught parents. It is right and proper that they should expend all their energy for the well-being of the child, but should the rest of us show similar concern, when all around there is so much other suffering? … hence the cost analysis

And hence my return to the topic. I find myself in the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Glasgow, awaiting a triple heart by-bass operation in the morning (or a ‘cabbage’ as they call it here). And this despite me railing against the cost of repairing the old! There is a fine scene at the end of a James Cagney movie: he is awaiting his turn on Death Row, and as each of the prisoners are dragged off squealing, he is reassured by a big genial fellow who assures Cagney that ‘he ain’t scared of dyin’ no sirree’ … inbetween trying to get the knack of playing a wee harmonica. Sure enough, the warders come for him, and off he goes, sweet as mince … but then you see his shadow struggle in the corridor, as he shouts, ‘no guys, just wait on a bit … I nearly got this toon’. Despite our best intentions, when faced with oblivion we tend to buckle. Who wants to live till they’re 94? … why, the 93 year old. So, a bit of simple research tells me the cost of this op is between £20k and £100k. While I can run my business, I generate about £50k, so if this gives me a couple of years, I’ve about covered it … still feel a bit of a coward for submitting to it though. It’s not something you can get an honest second opinion on either. Family and friends, if they have any affection for you at all will persuade you to go for it … even those who might share my own misgivings would deem it tactless to even demur. And the young genuinely love life more than the ageing. And as we age do we become too weak-willed to resist? So the silent conspiracy continues … life at any cost!