Monday, September 14, 2009

How Much is a Human Life Truly Worth?

We need to include tort reform as part of our health care reform. This would help to lower the cost of health care by decreasing the cost of malpractice insurance and legal fees for health care professionals. Nobody should be able to sue a doctor or any other member of the medical profession for millions and millions of dollars. A reasonable cap should be set on punitive damages (in addition to cost of medical care, etc.), even in the cases of severe injury or death. In addition, the health care professional who is found to be responsible for the damages should no longer be able to practice medicine, and he should be subjected to the penalties for any criminal activities which are already established in our legal system.

So what is a reasonable cap for determining what a human life is worth? Of course, a human life is priceless, but when presented with the ugly task of trying to place a monetary value on life, here are some suggestions from the Bible:

In Leviticus 27:1-8, we see a list of various amounts for the equivalence of "dedicating persons to the Lord." The highest of these amounts was for "a male between the ages of twenty and sixty," which was fifty shekels of silver, or about 1.25 pounds. At today's price of silver of about $14 per ounce, this would be about $280. This is obviously too low for today's standards.

Then, in Matthew 20:9, we see that a day's wages was a denarius, which was a silver coin weighing about 4.5 grams, or about 0.16 ounces. Again, at today's price of silver, this was about $2 for one day's wages. So, we see that the $280 from Leviticus 27 would equate to several months' wages. and it would even be fair to say that this was approximately one years' wages. In today's world, we might say that this would be one years' worth of wages for whatever the injured party's annual salary is, or we might choose an average number, maybe $30,000 to $50,000, or maybe even a more generous number of $100,000. However, this still seems too low to us for what a human life is worth.

Then in Genesis 29:18, we read the story about Laban working for seven years for Jacob, in return for Jacob's daughter Rachel (i.e., for her hand of in marriage. From this we might conclude that a life is worth seven years' wages. Using the numbers from above, one could argue that this might place the value of a human life somewhere between $200,000and $700,000, with a more generous amount being about $1,000,000.

A (priceless) human life is certainly worth more than one million dollars. However, is this amount a reasonable cap for punitive damages for what a human life is worth in our legal system? Yes, I think this is fair. The average man or woman could easily live on the interest on this amount, which, at 5% would be $50,000 per year. If the person is wealthy, and accustomed to living on a much larger amount, then they would still be able to get by simply because they are wealthy. It's a tough decision that nobody wants to make, but it needs to be done.

Owen Weber is the founder of Christian Data Resources, which publishes Christian books and articles on topical issues and frequently asked Bible questions. His passion is to promote Bible study by teaching others how to learn more about God's Word. This will enable readers to decide where they stand on the issues, according to how they interpret God's Word for themselves. Visit for answers to your Bible questions.

No comments: