Sunday, March 13, 2005

Is It Worth Any Price to Live?

I recognize that this is a post I may regret writing in a little while should by views change or aditional insights come to light. I am writing here with certainty about things I still struggle with. There is certainly a difference between allowing someone to die and killing them, but such distinctions can be very hard to make in real life.


Can we put a value on a human life? Most of us recoil at the notion that there might be some cap on the value of our mortal lives. I certainly do. The scriptures aver that life is indeed very precious and valuable. But reason must intercede where emotion fails us.

Suppose that I, as a relatively young man, am very sick and the doctors estimate that I have about 2 years to live. Suppose again, by some fluke, it is discovered that if I could remain weightless for 6 months my body would likely mend. Would it be proper for the government to spend millions of dollars to send me up to a space station and allow me to live there? Is my individual life really worth that price?

Assume that we decide that, yes, my life is worth such a national undertaking. Upon my return home it is discovered that the doctors were right. My body mended from the original malady by the weightlessness of space. But I discover that a new malady has arisen that will require a very special treatment. The production of the needed medication will cost many more millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours. Is it now worth it to proceed?

Since resources, such as man-hours, are limited, we can only place seemingly infinite sums of money into the preservation of a single human life at the expense of other lives. We actually demean ourselves and our race when we believe that the preservation of our life and health is worth any sum.

As a religious man, I am further comforted to know that mortal life is not the end. I believe that my associations from this life will continue in the next. Given that I believe in my pre- and post-mortal existence, isn’t it a bit absurd to cling overly hard to the time given me in this intermediate realm?

Does it benefit us to know what that value is of a life? How are we willing to value it? Does that value vary depending on our ability for future contribution? Past contribution? I don’t have any idea what the value is or how it might be determined. But I get a gut sense for obvious cases where the value has been exceeded. If my hypothetical illness were to drain all my families’ resources, making it difficult for them to care for themselves and my children, haven’t I done them a horrible disservice? What a horrible judgment call to have to make. I am glad that my wife is the one I entrust to make it. She knows me best and loves me most of any other mortal. She’d make the right choice. And if the result was that I should leave this life a little earlier than I might have liked, I find peace in knowing we’ll meet again in joyful reunion on the other side.


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