Ramblings: The Weight of a Soul

This year has brought to the forefront, of my mind at least, this age-old question of what is the value of a human life. Two issues have forced me to spend time thinking about this, one personal and the other political. I was told as a child that a human life is invaluable. That to put a monetary value on it is a sacrilege.

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Then, when I took my require classes in medical ethics in graduate school, we saw that human life does have a price tag, although the amount is not universally accepted or applied. But it would become evident if there was a rationing of medical treatments.

There is a rationing of medical treatments based on social status. Poor people died of diseases that rich people do not and it is directly due to the affordability of health insurance and medical care.

This whole concept came roaring home to me fifteen months ago when I went from great health, no medical problems and taking no medications, to being at death’s door. As soon as the oncologist had the diagnosis he met with us (once) to describe the road ahead. It was beyond comprehension. I wrote in my early blog that the road to recovery was like climbing Mount Everest and I had one boot on so far, not even laced. It was looking ahead to what seemed like a formidable task (chemo, dialysis, bone marrow transplant, bone hardening infusions, more chemo). But beside suffering ahead and the work would take, there was the price. He told us that by the end of the year (2019) I will consume $1,000,000 in health care dollars. He was correct.

This put me into a real dilemma. I had always been the primary bread winner for our family and much of my self-esteem, for better or worse, came from my ability to do such. So, suddenly I would not only not be the bread winner, but I could put Denise into deep debt (we were not sure how much insurance would cover). After meeting with the oncologist, I may have discussed these thoughts outside my head with several people, but I will not forget one. She was a young nurse, working her first job. When I told her about this struggle of figuring out if I’m worth a million bucks, she said in direct terms, “You’ve lived a good life. Why not end it yourself now to save the cost to your family?”

That was shocking to me, especially when they were already telling me that they were not sure if they could save my life, unless maybe I could fight really hard.

Those thoughts haunted me… until now. Fortunately, and the big bills started to come in (I think the very first bill we got was $300,000 for the hospitalization) Regence covered the expenses. This included a $800,000 bone marrow transplant. If they had not paid, then I may have ended my life rather than to create a financial burden on Denise.

So, one could say, “Mike you are worth this much money as all human lives are?” But at the same time, if I let my thoughts go to the extremes, I know (having worked in the developing world) that you could take the 1 million spent on me and spend it on measles vaccine programs, or malaria treatment programs and save the lives of hundreds or thousands. How is that fair? If it were so easy to transfer the money, I would have pushed the button to do so, to end my life to save theirs.

But then someone said to me, “Mike, that million is insurance company money. Did you not pay into insurance for the past 40 years and take almost nothing from them? And Mike, if you did not spend the money to save your life, would it not go to line the pockets of the shareholders of the insurance company and not to poor in the developing world?

These are hard questions. I find them especially hard because I’m at an emotional place where I feel so worthless to society and my family.

But moving beyond my little world to the big picture in 2020. I’ve discussed this before here in this space but I was appalled when I started to hear the narrative that it is okay to sacrifice the elderly and ill to COVID-19 in order to improve the economy. I heard this mostly from politically conservative people, especially evangelicals. I really found that disturbing. If you do the research you will see that this narrative began in the offices of big business who do care more about money than the lives of people. But it means that we are at an age where we value human life in monetary terms.

In bringing this to a conclusion, I will not resolve this question but reframe it. Can you put the human soul on the scale to determine its monetary value? Is the life of the rich more valuable than the poor? In a just world, shouldn’t all life be seen as invaluable? Or, is the Brave New World here and we ration resources as the best investment, allowing those without a return to die.

For the Christians reading this I ask another question and it is the age-old one of, “What would Jesus do?” I imagine that if they brought someone to Jesus and said they were gong to execute that person unless pays them twenty pieces of silver. I think he would throw the money to the ground and say it is absurd that we put a price tag on human lives, that money is just money. Silver just a metal that comes from the ground and it should return there. Then Jesus would strike the people holding the prisoner with scabies or have the prisoner’s chains break open, something we can’t do.


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2 responses to “Ramblings: The Weight of a Soul”

  1. Mike, it always breaks my heart the most to hear you say that you aren’t of value to the world any longer. Even if you arent’t working in medicine, there are so many of us out here who have been so very touched by your compassion, kindness and abilities! I am still struggling to “replace” you as a medical professional as finding headache specialists with the abilities that you have is next to impossible! You were and will always be the becon of light for so many of us that have struggled with migraines. You were so knowledgeable and so dedicated and so kind….that combination in the medical world is almost impossible to find! You are the second medical professional I know that has a debilitating disease that took you away from medicine (I have a dear friend who was a physician and she now has Porphyria and cannot work) and you both echo the same sentiments of feeling that you are a burden to society. I find it quite interesting that you are both medical professionals and you both have almost the same feelings about the fact that because you are no longer practicing you are no longer “worth” something. I am guessing that comes from the fact that you are both compassionate and caring people and practicing medicine was your way of making the world better. I just wish I could tell both or you that you already did your jobs! You already have made such huge differences in the lives of those you touched. While it would be wonderful if you could both continue, that does NOT take away what you’ve already done!! You have touched more people in a positive way already than most people do in their entire lives! Please remember that, please think about that. You are dearly missed but you will never be forgotten and you are STILL helping in the ways that you can! Again, you are still contributing in ways that many of us can only dream!


    • That is so kind of you to say Staci. I didn’t mean to “compliment bait” with my posting. It is a sudden shock from getting up every morning to go see patients and then having no concrete reason to get up anymore.


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