The value of life: $35,000 plus benefits?

By Brandon Evans | Published Saturday, February 16, 2013

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What’s the value of a human life? What about the value of only one more year of life on Earth?

In theory, a human life is priceless, but according to most insurance companies it’s only worth about $50,000. That’s the cost most health insurance plans use to justify whether or not to cover a medical procedure. In order for a treatment or procedure to be worth the cost, it must guarantee one year of “quality life” for $50,000 or less.

If you want to be a bit more generous, you could use a Stanford University study that calculated a year of quality human life to be worth approximately $129,000.

It sounds distasteful, impossible even, to put a price on human life. But it’s done all the time.

Brandon Evans

Brandon Evans

For example, the death benefit paid to the surviving family of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq or Afghanistan is $500,000. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has projected that an entire human life is valued at $6.9 million. The Food and Drug Administration scribbles it down as $7.9 million.

A conversation on the cost of human life occurred in Rhome City Hall Thursday night. For about a year, the Rhome Volunteer Fire Department has had an issue responding to daytime calls during the week. This is because the few active volunteers they have are in other cities, working during that time.

It came to a dramatic head after several medical calls resulted in deaths over the past few months. Wise County medics arrived as quickly as they could, but there was no first response by the Rhome Fire Department. Rhome council member Cole Blanche argued that those deaths might have been prevented if a Rhome firefighter made scene a few minutes or moments earlier.

In order to address the issue, a few council members devised a plan to pay for a first responder to be stationed at the Fire Hall during normal working hours Monday through Friday. They also proposed some incentive programs to reward and encourage volunteers. Both proposals brought heated debate before narrowly passing.

They were, in effect, arguing over the cost of human life. Their cost was fairly cheap, $30,000 to $35,000 for the first responder position, plus some small payouts for the incentive program. But their actions could save lives.

Fast response is crucial for the growing city, now Wise County third’s largest. Busy highways transect Rhome. There were 23 highway fatalities in Wise County last year, nine of them on U.S. 287 and another on Texas 114. Those two dangerous highways cross paths in Rhome like an “X.”

Some people in attendance wanted to better address “why the dearth of volunteers?” They brought up personality or personal issues as a reason why as many people might not be volunteering for duty at the fire hall.

But council member Michelle Pittman, who has also been volunteering with the fire department recently, had a good answer.

“So what if you have a personal issue with one person in a department?” she said. “Is that personal issue worth letting someone die over it, or letting someone’s house burn to ash?”

Unlike human life, a personality clash is worthless.

Brandon Evans is a reporter for the Wise County Messenger

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