How do we value a human life? What criteria do we use? Is one life deemed more valuable than another based on a particular set of perimeters? At this point in time that would, unfortunately, seem to be the case. We tend to judge people for all the wrong reasons, and this constant judgment leads us to categorize individuals which then allows us to assess their relative worth in this life…in our opinion. Of course we do not wish to have anyone judge us in return. This is not a two-way street. Our opinion means everything while their opinion means nothing. This endless judgment of humanity creates misery and heartbreak for hundreds of millions of human beings while leading to neglect, wars and even genocide. When we consider someone’s life to be less valuable than our own we feel no responsibility towards them, we feel no guilt when they suffer, and ultimately we feel no remorse when they die. We believe they are beneath us. However, this feeling of superiority is completely irrational.

How can we say that the life of a 62-year-old man in the United States is worth a $250,000 organ transplant that will buy him 15 more years of life while in Zambia a child is not provided a 25 cent meal each day and therefore dies at the age of five from hunger? Where is the justice of such a comparison? Each year in America there are approximately 6,500 liver transplants each costing between $200,000 and $250,000. Those surgeries have a combined cost of $1,625,000,000. Each year 6,570,000 children die from hunger and related causes. At only 25 cents per meal it costs just $91.25 per year to keep a child alive. To save the lives of all 6,570,000 would cost $599,512,500. For a little over a third of what it cost to save the lives of just 6,500 U.S. citizens we could save the lives of more than six million children in poverty with more than a billion dollars left over…Are the lives of the six and a half million children not worth as much as the lives of the sixty-five hundred Americans? 

How we answer that question reveals our true feelings about equality and how we actually value human life. The equation of 6 million lives versus 6 thousand lives is disturbing because at this moment in time we have chosen to save the smaller number while we willingly let the larger number die – even though it would be cheaper to save the millions instead of the thousands. It is as if all logic is turned upside down. Of course the real problem with this entire example is the fact that human life is being assigned a monetary value. That is morally wrong. In a world filled with compassion a numerical value would never be attached to a human life. Whether you needed the surgery that cost a quarter of a million dollars or the 25 cent meal you would receive it because it would extend your life, therefore if would be the compassionate and humane thing to do, but that is a world we do not live in at this time. Hopefully some day, but not now. 

The astronomical costs that are required to save a few lives while the comparative low financial effort it would take to save many lives makes it difficult to understand why we continue to allow 10,950,000 human beings to needlessly die each year in extreme poverty. When we claim that we can’t afford to save them we are not being honest. If that many human beings were dying in the West from preventable causes we would spare no expense to stop the atrocity in its tracks and desperately try to save as many lives as possible. But it is not happening to us…it is happening to them. And we have convinced ourselves that their lives are not as valuable as ours, that their children are not as precious as our children and that they do not deserve the right to live in peace and good health the way that we expect and demand. We believe their lives are expendable. 

Are any two human lives really completely equal? One man sits in an office, signing important documents, holding critical meetings and making decisions that affect the entire world. He is the President of the United States. Another man crawls to his customary spot along side a busy street. He lost both legs as a boy to a missile attack that was ordered by a previous U.S. President. He signs no documents because he is illiterate. He holds no meetings because other people will not speak to him. He makes no important decisions because he is simply a beggar. Are these two human beings equal in every way? Do their respective lives have the same value? Which one should receive an organ transplant? Which one should be allowed to starve to death? Is the life of a disabled person in extreme poverty equal to the life of a healthy President? 

People say you can carry “this equality thing” too far. They believe there is no way that the life of a beggar is as valuable as the life of the leader of the free world. And it is exactly that point of view that has created the reality we see today. As long as we think we possess the wisdom to decide whose life is invaluable and whose life is worthless we will continue to let millions of human beings die each year in poverty simply because we do not believe their lives are worth the time and trouble to save. Until we accept the fact that ALL human life is sacred we will continue to wreck havoc and misery on our world. We will continue to kill each other in pointless wars. We will neglect each other and let helpless people starve. We will spend fortunes to save a few lives and let the masses die without any medical care at all. We will allow innocent children to needlessly die before the age of five and let young mothers die horrific deaths during childbirth. We will continue to allow all these things to happen because WE have decided the value of a human life. 

We have decided that for your life to be worth anything your skin has to be a certain color. You have to have a particular set of religious beliefs. You have to have been born in this part of the world and not “that” part of the world. You need to have money to be considered valuable. You cannot have any disabilities or limitations of any kind. Your politics cannot be radical and your social customs cannot be too different or seem strange. You should not speak a foreign language. If we can’t understand what you are saying you have no chance of convincing us to help you. In other words, for your life to have value you must be one of us and not one of “them”. The problem with this mentality is that only a small percentage of the world matches our specific requirements. That means that billions of human beings are left out of our distorted view of what we believe is a life with value. We should worry that some day the tables will turn, the power will shift and all those who have been considered worthless will then have the opportunity to judge whether we should be allowed to live or die. We can only hope they will be wiser and more compassionate than we have been with them. 



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