Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

You can't put a price on human life, right?

An odd glitch in the conservative mind is the claim, on the one hand, that human life is infinitely precious and it would be a crime to "ration" health care; and on the other that environmental, worker and consumer safety regulations are intolerable because they cost too much.

Obviously nobody actually believes that human life is infinitely precious or that you can't put a price on it because we put a price on human life all the time. Cars and highways, workplaces, stores and restaurants, homes, sidewalks, public parks, every environment that people spend time in could be made safer by spending more money. The air and water could be cleaner, the food supply could be safer. But we balance the benefits of regulation against the costs. (I'll leave war, guns and the death penalty out of it for now because that leads into other thickets.)

Conservatives generally favor spending less on public safety in all of these domains, because it would "burden business" and force people to pay taxes. Yet for some reason the equation flips when it comes to health care. Not spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to extend a life -- even a hopelessly compromised and limited life -- by even a short time is unconscionable. Note that this only applies to people who happen to have insurance, however. Which means that other people are paying for it. People who don't have insurance, and can't pay? The rest of us have no obligation to them.

Before you can even being to think about health care policy, you have to get your thinking straight on this. Resources are finite. There has to be some mechanism for allocating them. You and I may have different ethical principles, but at least you need to be consistent. Conservatives, of all stripes, whether libertarian or religious, are not.

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