What is the value of a human life?

How much is a human life worth?  According to  this article,  the government determines how much should be spent to prevent a person’s death based upon the answer to this question.  Car regulations, warnings on medicinal drugs and cigarettes, and other methods of preventing death all rely on what value any given agency has calculated for a human life. Yet this value differs greatly among agencies.  The EPA set a value of $9.1 million (up from $6.8 during the Bush administration), the FDA values life at $7.9 million (up from $5 million in 2008), and the Transportation Department values life at around $6 million.  All these values are varied, though in 2004 the Office of Management and Budget specified that the value of life used by these agencies should be somewhere between $1 million and $10 million but a value below $5 million would be difficult to justify.

Is it right to place monetary value on human life?  If so, how should these  numbers be decided?

It seems to me that giving each person’s life a value of x amount of dollars undervalues what a person means to their loved ones.  How can you place a value on how much a person’s parent, grandparent, or sibling meant to them?  Can that loss even be quantified?  To the  people we love and who love us, we are priceless.  But even so, I would not value my life at $9.1 million dollars.  I may have a high sentimental value and made small contributions to society, but I have not contributed an income to my family, nor have I done anything great for which I would be recognized  in society. On the other hand, my parents may think my siblings and I are priceless, but a stranger would give me no greater value than any other person.  If this is the case, the value of any human life is subjective.

Still, federal agencies designate a monetary value to a generic human life in order to impose regulations that prevent death.  They use these values as a way of justifying a cost-benefit analysis.  An example of this was given in the article: if the presidential administration wants to impose a stricter and more expensive regulation for the strength of car roofs, the value of a human life must be increased so that they can claim that the benefits outweigh the costs.  If the total value of the people who would potentially be saved outweighs the cost, then they have achieved their goal.

Because these values do not represent any one specific person, we are considering a “generic” human life, if there is such a thing.  If this is the case, it seems that the values given to represent a life are not actually representing the monetary worth of that life.  Instead, they are representing how much we value human life.  Does this make it any better?  By looking at our actions and behaviors  (riding in a car, working for a logging company, taking prescription drugs, etc), we can see how much we value life and how much we are willing to prevent death in that way.

After reading this article, I am still not sure where I stand.  Even though the value of life for any given person is the same,  people may place different values in different areas.  Also, if a country can not afford the regulations that are in place in the US, does that mean that those citizens place less value on human life?



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