Thursday, February 17, 2005


People often say that human life is infinitely precious, or that it is impossible to place a value on human life, or that human life cannot be valued in money.Of course they don’t really mean it. It is true that as a society we expend enormous resources on desperately ill people, so long as there is hope of extending their lives. We have no qualms about spending thousands of dollars a day for patients in intensive care, half a million dollars on heart transplants, millions of dollars over decades to keep people with severe brain damage alive, even when they cannot move or communicate. The state of Florida even passed a special law just to keep one such woman alive, even though her husband wishes to end her life, if that’s what it is, and believes that she would want the same thing.

According to a report called The State of the World's Children, 2005, issued recently by the United Nations Children's Fund, about 29,000 children under five die every day from readily preventable causes -- diarrhea, malaria, measles -- which are almost unheard of as causes of child death in the wealthy countries. Most of these children could be saved by mosquito netting worth a few dollars, a vaccination that costs $2.50, drilling a well in their village -- the price of coffee and a doughnut for each child’s life saved. So, what is the value of human life?