What is the Value of a Human Life?

atkins-bookshelf-triviaFrom a purely humanistic or philosophical perspective, the value of a human being is precious and immeasurable. Such a question might even seem heartless or offensive; however in the dispassionate realm of statistics and actuarial science it is routinely assigned an economic value by insurance companies, medical companies, the government, and the military. These cold calculations are used by federal agencies (like the EPA, FDA, and Transportation Department) to develop national health and safety regulations. The regulators ask “how much money does the government or businesses need to spend in order to save a life?” A safety regulation is evaluated by comparing the cost of implementation versus the cost of human lives saved. For example, each year in the U.S. more than 30,000 people die in car accidents. If the speed limit were reduced to 13 MPH, that number would approach zero; however the cost to implement such a regulation is too high, not to mention it would meet with enormous resistance from the voters who don’t want to change their dangerous driving habits.

What is surprising — and a bit disturbing — about their valuation of human life is just how much they differ. The list below lists the value of a human life for one year or for the value of a human life:

$50,000 per year – as determined by most government-run and private health insurance plans worldwide
$129,ooo per year – as determined by a Stanford Graduate School of Business research team, analyzing kidney dialysis data
$600,000 for a life – as determined by the military for the loss of a soldier’s life
$6 million for a life – as determined by the Transportation Department
$6.9 million for a life – as determined by the Environmental Protection Agency
$7 million for a life – as determined by finding the median value for prime aged workers

The U.S. Bureau of Chemistry and Soil determined that the value of a human body is worth $5.50 of chemicals and minerals. Specifically the human body is composed of 65% Oxygen, 18% Carbon, 10% Hydrogen, 3% Nitrogen, 1.5% Calcium, 1% Phosphorous, 0.35% Potassium, 0.25% Sulfur, 0.15% Sodium, 0.15% Chlorine, 0.05% Magnesium, 0.0004% Iron, 0.00004% Iodine (worth $4.50) and trace quantities of fluorine, silicon, manganese, zinc, copper, aluminum, and arsenic (worth $1.00). The Imperial State Institute for Nutrition at Tokyo determined that the average human body contains 18 square feet of skin, valued at $3.50, bringing the total value of the human body to $9.00 in raw materials. It’s a good thing that government regulators and insurance companies don’t use this figure as a baseline — otherwise humanity is headed to extinction way before the next massive asteroid strikes the planet.

Read related post: The Three Second Rule
Healthcare by the Numbers

For further reading: www.nytimes.com/2011/02/17/business/economy/17regulation.html?_r=2&.
http://www.livescience.com/15855-dollar-human-life.html. www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1808049,00.html.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Value_of_life. www.businessinsider.com/the-epa-has-tabulated-the-value-of-a-human-life-2012-8

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