David E Romm

Rhetoric 1152W

Thought Paper #3

How Much Is Your Life Worth, And To Whom

Crunching rhetorical arguments to their base components

Criminal: "Your money or your life."

Long pause "Well?"

Jack Benny, impatiently: "I'm thinking, I'm thinking!"

For many of the bioethical issues in Taking Sides, edited by Carol Levine, the main concern is money. How much are we willing to pay to keep old people alive? Should health insurance be based on employment? Should there be a market in body parts? Arguments dealing with the patenting of human genes, whether employers should be allowed to see the genetic testing results from employees and whether patients should be told about the availability of expensive genetic tests all have major economic elements. The issues are frequently shrouded in the cloak of morals and ethics, but the actual decisions are not based on high-minded considerations and the rhetoric seems hollow because of it. An appeal to emotion is fine; an appeal to the pocketbook is more persuasive. This itself is a moral dilemma.

In an ideal world, where money and time flow freely to all, these discussions would disappear or at least be cast in different molds. In the real world, resources are limited and economic inequalities are the norm, so some live and some die.

And yet, there is a further consideration that isn't dealt with directly in any of the essays: To whom is your life worth? The quick answer is the patient: That is, you. But many of these issues have other people making decisions for you.

"Do Parents Harm Their Children When They Refuse Medical Treatment on Religious Grounds", is a complex issue. For there are not just one, not two, not three, but four decision makers involved here, though one is not directly in the loop. The arguments presented come down to: Who is in charge of the child's well being, the state or the parents? The decision of the child (the decision maker most effected) is not considered: Incapable of informed consent. Decision maker two is the parents, taken together. Do their beliefs outweigh the child's right to live as protected by the decision maker three, the state? The fourth decision maker is seen, in this case by Christian Scientists, to have the final say: God. More precisely: Their interpretation of God. Because the afterlife is more important than life on Earth, claims several fervent religions, God's will must not be interfered with, to the point of death.

The view that God and the afterlife are more important than people and life on Earth is not a new one. Previous manifestations abound. During the Middle Ages, the Inquisition tortured people to death. If you confessed under torture, you were absolved and then put to death. If you didn't confess, you either died in sin and went to Hell or died innocent and went to Heaven, but that was God's province and the Inquisition had carried out its duties faithfully. During the many witch trials, including the Salem Witch Trials here in the US, the mere accusation of consorting with the devil brought you to trial. One of the trials: You were dunked in the water, strapped to a chair. If you died, that meant the Devil wasn't protecting you and you were innocent. If you survived, it meant you were in league with the Devil and you were burned to death. In both cases, your soul was saved and God's work had been done.

The issue of abortion, and "Should Pregnant Women Be Punished for Exposing Fetuses to Risk?" revolve around who decides for the fetus: The mother (the father isn't mentioned), the state (looking out for an unborn citizen with full rights) or God? At what point can the state override the decisions of the mother, even when most agree that the decisions are bad ones? And is the life of a fetus from conception on ultimately in the charge of God or is a fetus that hasn't reached viability outside the womb still a part of the mother and no one else?

Consider: "Is It Ethical To Withhold the Truth From Dying Patients?" "Is It Ethical To Perform Sham Surgery For Clinical Research?" And to a lesser extent, "Should Animal Experimentation Be Permitted?" Arguments in these issues have the physician overriding the patient's decision making process. The doctor is playing God.

"Can Family Interests Outweigh Patient Autonomy?" has the decision about your life in the hands of people who, we charitably assume, love you. Should "Physicians Be Allowed to Assist in Patient Suicides?" is all about whether you have the right to die under the least painful and most controlled circumstances. It's your life, but your options are limited when it comes to death.

The monetary value of a life is well beyond the scope of this paper. Generally, you pay what you have to live; failing that, you rely on your insurance. Is your health worth a $500 deductible? Is your life worth anything to you after you're gone or are you protecting your future earnings for your loved ones? You can figure out how much life insurance to carry with the Life Insurance calculator. Insurance companies don't like to talk about it, but there's a calculation for how much they pay when people die in airplane crashes and similar disasters: Different people are worth different amounts. Donating an organ doesn't mean you can't collect life insurance. I'm sure this is cold comfort to those who lose out on the bidding wars for a needed kidney. How far are we when promising to donate an organ gets you a discount on your life insurance... if the insurance company gets the organ to dispense.

None of these issues are resolved here. Moral considerations and emotional appeals can only inform but cannot make the ultimate decision in a particular circumstance. Often the choice is stark: Whether to go into debt to try the expensive testing and treatments that might keep your mother alive but in pain for another five years, or to send your kids to college.

In an ideal world where medical treatment is easily available to all, Taking Sides>/i> would be very, very different. Arguments would sound more like the Talmud, debating obscure points of ethics, law and religion. But until then, we mere mortals have to trudge through life making decisions and having decisions made for us on the basis of economics and other people's religions.

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