How Do We Value Human Life?

Andrew John Plath
2 min readApr 24, 2020


Recently on NPR’s “ All Things Considered” I heard a report on how the Government determines the value of human life.

This made me think. We are caught up in a crisis; a pandemic of epic proportions and our President and many governors are weighing the numbers to determine best when to reopen the United States for business and are asking big questions about whether or not social distancing is enough. How many more people can our doctors and nurses test? Is safer at home working?

A guesstimated value for each individual comes to about $10,000,000. Wages and salaries are often determined by the risk factors in some people’s jobs. Consider the pay for a steeplejack or even a transmission tower climber. A transmission tower climber can make over $56,000 a year or more at $26.92 per hour.

Salaries and wages are often determined by the level of education needed to qualify for the job. But safety risk is also a factor too.

Human Value

The mere question of human value makes me think about the real value of every human being. That is a value that is priceless. The dollar amount for every human being is more than what money can pay.

A classic film directed by Frank Capra in 1946 touched this subject quite well. You guessed it. “It’s A Wonderful Life”. The story of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart). The main theme of this film comes into play when George Bailey, the head of a Building & Loan, questions the value of his life, whether his wife and children would be better off without him after his uncle lost $8,000 that was supposed to be deposited in a bank account.

When an angel is sent to rescue him out of the river where he thought he would drown, George is given a chance to see what life in the community of Bedford Falls would be like without him. George sees the number of lives he touched and what they would be like without him.

The dollar amount that the government puts on human life, $10,000,000, seems a little inadequate. Each one of us is connected with the others around us. Every day at work, online, in our communities, and in our families we touch other human beings. No man is an island unto himself. Every man and woman is a part of the broader community of the world.

We all have brothers and sisters no matter how distant. We touch lives every day. To put a price on that, well, some things just can’t be done.



Andrew John Plath

Alumnus from the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, Photographer and writer.