In the Twilight Zone episode "Button, Button", a couple answers a knock at the door to find a stranger holding a small wooden box with a button on top. The stranger informs them that if they press the button, they will receive a large sum of money but someone they do not know will die. After agonizing for days over the box, the wife presses the button (over her husbands objection).
The next day, the stranger returns and gives them a briefcase full of cash, and informs them that the button will be reprogrammed and given to somebody they don't know. (queue ominous music)
While the story above is wholly implausible, it does beg the question of the value placed on human lives. From society's perspective, is there a dollar amount that makes the loss of some unspecified individuals life acceptable? This is a tough philosophical issue to resolve - especially for someone who believes that human life is special - that our creation in God's image places human life above the life of His other creatures. However, logically, there must be some dollar amount at which the loss of a random life is tolerable.
I bring this up in light of a recent push to ban all forms of cell phone communication while driving. As it turns out, hands free communication is no safer than holding the phone to one's ear. The National Safety Council attributes "636,000 crashes, 12,000 serious injuries and 2,600 deaths each year" to cell phone use (hands free or not).
The problem is that in today's society, instant communication has become a necessity for doing business. Taking phones out of the hands of drivers would result in a large hit to our nations productivity - a negative at any time, but especially in the midst of recession. The common response is that we cannot place a value on human life.
This is certainly an understandable and completely human response - and it is good that we feel that way. However, if we actually believed that no expense was to high if it "saves lives", we would be required to:
1) Impose 10 MPH speed limits on our highways - or ban cars altogether - and planes too
2) Ban swimming pools, boating and 5 gallon buckets since between 3-4000 people drown yearly
3) Ban all forms of electricity (maybe the Amish are on to something)
4) Limit all buildings to single story
In short, we aren't able to list all the policies required if no expense was to great to "save lives" (sort of ties in with Joe's post last week). The rules would be endless and productivity would grind to a halt - but the lack of productivity would also cost human lives. Modern society has produced all sorts of things to save and extend life. State, National and World economies are complex things - no individual or group of individuals would be able to sort out all the causes and effects of a given policy. It would be impossible to calculate all the consequences of a given policy - or even track them once it has been passed since nobody can see every ripple - and those affected by those ripples don't see what started them.
One thing we do know from history - free society's tend to enjoy longer (and healthier) lives than unfree.