Sunday, May 5, 2013

One life saved


I heard the President say recently, as he has at times in the past, “if it saves one life, it is worth it.” In this case, he was talking about some form of gun control.

I’m not going to join the argument about gun control at this point. It has been well argued in public discourse, and I have nothing to add that has not already been said many times.

I want to argue instead about the statement, if it saves one life, it is worth it. Aside from gun control, that statement gets made about things mandated for our safety in many areas: traffic, automobile construction, home construction, school construction, job safety, etc.

The statement sounds so compassionate and so logical.  How can anyone put a value on human life? What is a life worth? Of course, that would depend on whether we are talking about my life or yours, my money or yours.

To begin with, you don’t know whether your efforts have saved a life until you have saved one. All we can really know is how many lives were lost. We can’t really know whether our effort was what made a difference for those who did not die.

The real question is how much money should we spend on a bet that it will save a life? Obviously, we are willing to bet some. I wouldn’t buy a new car that didn’t have seatbelts and airbags. I will spend the money on the bet that I may need them and hence, they might just save my life. But how far will I go on the grounds that it just might save any life? There was a fellow I used to see driving around Anchorage who had welded an entire roll cage around the outside of his car. I won’t go that far.

You can spend too much money, and the government can spend too much, or mandate that you spend too much, on the basis that it might just save one life.


The second fallacy is that no matter what action you take, you will not save a life. No life is saved. Even those Jesus is reported to have raised people from the dead, are no longer with us. What you saved was a few days, weeks, months or years. Life is a terminal illness, not to be saved.


So the question is not what is a life worth, but what is it worth to save a few additional days, weeks, months or years? If it is your money, I guess the answer is it is your business. But when it is public money it becomes my business.


During the election, the Republicans were making a fuss over the fact that with government health care, there would be panels deciding whether grandpa (that would be me) would get a particular medical procedure or not. Since public money is being used, I would hope some responsible person was there to determine if the cost of the procedure was worth the days, weeks, months or years it would add to a life.


The bottom line is this, don’t give into a politician whose best argument is that “if it saves one life, it will have been worth it.” There is no limit to the number of ideas people can come up with when they get to spend other people’s money.


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