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Spot the Mistake: The Value of Human Lives

There was an article on yahoo news recently that promoted the idea that we must put a monetary value on human lives when considering the cost of safety issues. Since the article actually has reasons for this belief it is a great place to point out mistakes in reasoning made in the article. In fact, safety does not require this and putting a monetary value on human lives is immoral anyway.

The basic argument of the article is that we must compare the cost of the safety regulation with the value of the human lives that the regulation will save. If regulation costs more, then we should not implement it. Their argument for why we must have such a limit is the point that safety regulations cannot be promoted without limit. If we drove at 13 miles per hour, then there would be no traffic accidents, but no one would want such a regulation. They imply that if this is acceptable, then we must believe that driving faster than 13 miles per hour is worth more than 30,000 human lives. So that is the argument.

The argument is flawed because it assumes something that must be argued for. Is the right comparison really between the costs of the safety regulation and the lives saved? I don’ t think so. Safety regulations are a form of security. They limit freedom as a way of protecting rights. In this case, they are protecting the right to life of various people who might be injured if a safety regulation does not exist. Therefore the right comparison is between the benefit of the safety regulation and the costs of the safety regulation. The costs of the safety regulation include not only monetary costs but the cost to freedom as well. The benefits of the safety regulation include not only the protection given to our rights, but also the protection to someone who might accidentally harm those rights. Since neither side can give a monetary value for those things, lives do not have monetary values.

Another problem with the argument is that lives are not really being weighed in the balance at all. Safety regulations do not protect the life of any particular person when they are being implemented. It is only afterwords that we can speak of safety regulations protecting a particular person. This means that we cannot compare the lives saved by safety regulations when we are suggesting the implementation of such regulations. We can only speak of the likelihood that a certain number of lives will be saved even though we can have no idea whose lives those are. So if human lives were being measured, then it would only be the humanity of an individual that is worth 5 million. The individual may be worth more (or less) than that.

Finally, valuing lives by comparison with something else is immoral. If it were true, then surely I could buy you for 5 million dollars. Anyone interested in starting up the slave trade again? If you need a further argument, consider the fact that using regulations as a guide to life would mean that some lives are more valuable than other lives. The president’ s life would be worth much more than 5 million considering that the Secret Service would die for him. A poor child in Africa would be worth much less. They might only be worth a few thousand dollars. This is obviously false, therefore, people do not have monetary values.

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