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How Much Is Life Worth?

We all think we’re pretty valuable stuff. But what are we really worth? That all depends on whether you ask your mother, grandmother, siblings, your priest or rabbi, pharmacist, local chemist, philosopher, organ salesman, or the government and its endless agencies.
With all the concern about health-care costs, a number of statistical czars in various branches of government have pegged what each of us is worth.

At the low end, we’ve heard that a chemist might pay $1.19 for the chemicals that make up our body. On the other hand, we’ve already spent more than $300 million for the federal government’s effort to unravel the genetic code in one person’s DNA sample.

Hillary Clinton apparently thought $100,000 was the magic number. That’s the limit she set for mammography screening tests for women.

For the EPA, the sky’s the limit. In 1991 the EPA recommended that we set standards for solid waste disposal that would have cost $36 billion to save one life. In between, some estimate that our current shortage of kidneys available for transplant could be alleviated by offering Americans $1,000 to part with one of their kidneys.

On the extreme, some radicals believe that people are the problem, and value their own vision of progress or a good environment more highly than human life. For example, Josef Stalin used Soviet citizens like pawns on a chessboard, willingly and gratuitously sacrificing them to solidify his reign of terror on his own people.

But all these numbers just don’t add up when we think about our loved ones, our own children, our family members and ourselves. When put to the test, we’d do everything possible for those we’re close to. This is why the numbers game sounds like a board game played by extraterrestrials.

So where do we draw the line?

As we become wealthier, resources expended on basic survival become a smaller and smaller proportion of our resources. For example, Americans now spend less than 10 percent of our resources on food; in some countries today, it’s still 30 percent. That leaves us with 20 percent of our resources available for all the other good things in life, including promotion of our own health. We’re also the first society in world history to have the luxury of spending less than 50 percent of our income on essentials such as food, clothing and shelter.

With the pot of resources growing larger with time, we’ve been spared much of the agony of how to re-allocate shrinking pots of resources.

But when these values conflict, such as in government spending for health care, compromises always have to occur. A family or individual might decide to devote all its resources to the care of a sick family member but governments always have other constituents wanting attention.

Even within families, allocation of resources varies radically from one family to the next. Some families have literally scoured the world seeking healing for an ill member. Others do not have the resources, time or energy to do so. These decisions often involve tragic trade-offs, but are very far from the value decisions possible in government bureaucracies.

By making decisions and allocations close to home, we can live together more comfortably without igniting a war of all against all, as can happen when scarce societal resources are demanded by conflicting groups, classes or generations.

In health care, voluntary cooperative arrangements among individual families, such as coordinated by the Christian Brotherhood Newsletter, allow members to help each other in times of illness, without stealing from neighbors.

Is our real worth related to those values we — or the government — put on people’s lives? We choose we! In reality, this is how most of us want to live our lives; we’re willing to expend more and more resources to preserve our health.

Put this way, having the opportunity to spend more on health seems like a splendid bargain, a great return on investment, opportunity, not the illusionary albatross that some politician mistakenly sees.


Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., of Newport Beach, Calif., writes extensively on medical, legal, disability and mental health reform. Robert J. Cihak, M.D., of Aberdeen, Wash., is president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. Both doctors are Harvard trained diagnostic radiologists. Collaborating as The Medicine Men, they write a weekly column for WorldNetDaily as well as numerous articles and editorials for newspapers, newsletters, magazines and journals nationally and internationally.

Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D.

Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., of Newport Beach, Calif., writes extensively on medical, legal, disability and mental health reform.

Dr. Robert J. Cihak, M.D.

Robert J. Cihak, M.D., was born in Yankton, South Dakota. He received his Bachelor's Degree from the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, where he studied under the philosopher Eric Voegelin. He earned an M.D. degree at Harvard Medical School (1962-66), and did postgraduate medical training and academic work as a surgical intern at Stanford Medical Center (1966-67), diagnostic radiology resident at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston (1967-70) and Assistant Professor of Radiology, U. New Mexico Medical School, Albuquerque, (1970-71). He then practiced diagnostic radiology in Aberdeen Washington until his retirement in 1994.