Value of Human Life

For a long time I have been wondering about the difference in perception of the value of a human life which depend on circumstances, culture, cause of death, geopolitics and who knows what else.

I find the numbers and the relative attention paid to them to be beyond rational explanation. Every year 5,000 coal miners die in China in coal mining accidents. Amnesty International reports that in 2004 there were 3,797 known executions in the World (of which 3,400 were in China). If the resources of Amnesty International were devoted to improving mining safety in China would that not save the most lives? (Coal mines in other parts of the world are much much safer therefore it is not a matter of attempting the impossible, it is a matter of transfer of technology and safety practices.)

Latest estimates of the death toll from Boxing Day tsunami are of 217,000 deaths. The number of victims of genocide in Rwanda is estimated at anywhere between 500,000 and 1 Million with a kind of a convergence number of 700,000. Arguably, the victims in Rwanda died a more horrible death if one considers murder to be more difficult to accept than natural disasters which have happened for thousands of years and over which we have no control. And yet there was no worldwide outpouring of sympathy and support and Billions of dollars of aid. The explanation probably being that most of the world could not imagine something like what happened in Rwanda ever happening to them while most of the world can imagine being on a beach somewhere and seeing a wall of water about to crush them.

The number of homicides in New York has been coming down steadily for more than a decade (a 70% decline between 1993 and 2003) but this year there will still be around 600 murders committed in New York. The number of US casualties in all of Iraq, a war zone, will be approximately the same if current trends continue through the rest of the year.


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