The Value of Life

There is a belief that every life is priceless.  Our culture at home is built around this belief.  Murder is considered one of the worst crimes with the harshest punishment.  Suicides are illegal and considered murder and unsuccessful attempts treated as mental illness.  Physician-assisted suicides (see my post: Can a Case be made for Physician-Assisted Suicide?) are still illegal in most states.  Religious groups are the ones most passionate about the taking of life, except in the case of execution in which case they fall back on Old Testament scripture of an eye for an eye.

On the other hand we have no qualms about sending our young troops who have great prospects for a future in harms way to, if necessary, die in the service of their country and deliberately attack and kill human beings made of the same flesh and bones as ourselves other than living abroad and believing in a different religion.  We arm our law enforcement with deadly weapons intended to kill those who resist capture by the police.  We also spend what is considered a reasonable and profit making amount of money to prevent or reduce traffic and industrial fatalities.  So life isn’t always sacred.  There is some value, even monetary value, we place on human life.

But in truth it is liability lawsuits that really place a dollar values on human life and make society engaged in safer practices.  Without liability lawsuits life would be without monetary value and treated with as much callous as we sometimes treat human life in third world countries.  So in truth life is not priceless.  It does have economic and social value.  The life of a president is held higher than that of a homeless person even if the president does far more harm to the nation than the homeless.  Life in war torn areas is extremely contentious since the value of a Muslim Arab appears to have far less value than an American hostage held prisoner by a terrorist even if the hostage has no business being in such a dangerous place.

The life of a homeless street person has more value if he were brutally murdered than if he were found dead of natural causes in terms of attention.  The life of a child has more value than that of an adult because of their innocence thus innocence has value.  We sometimes value the life of women more than men because they are lass able to defend themselves.  So even though we don’t often place a dollar value on a persons life some lives are worth more than others and some lives have less worth than the bullet that kills them in for example war.

But there are cases where there is a dollar amount set on the life of a person when killed or permanently injured and unable to work.  Our liability courts  do attempt to place a dollar value on a life as well as a price on pain and suffering.  These liability laws stem from the eye for an eye but have been modified to an eye for so many dollars through social evolution.

So in reality not every life is precious or priceless or has the same value.  Some lives have more value or are more precious than others and some lives such as murders awaiting execution and the enemy we send troops to kill seen to have no worth.  But even in the case of prisoners awaiting execution we carefully guard them against suicide until they are legally executed so we even value the lives of those we intend to kill.

Assisted suicides also known as doctor-assisted suicide or more correctly called assisted dying is another topic that is rather contentious due to religious beliefs regarding the sanctity of life.  Yet as pointed out earlier these very same people have no qualms about sending young troops into harms way or having troops kill others, even innocent civilians as collateral damage.  Many non-religious people like I on the other hand do not believe in internationally killing another human beings.  However I do not have a problem with a sane person taking their own life if living is slowly robbing them of their life and dignity.

For me life has value for the one holding it.  So how do I feel about a person in great mental depression or having some mental illness who wants to kill them-self because they feel their life less than worthless or are suffering extreme mental anguish and pain?  I really don’t know how I feel about them taking their own lives.  I think I would try to stop then in the hope of finding a solution to their problems but do I really have that right?

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