Saturday, June 28, 2008

Money, technology and death

Here's a conundrum. Probably not one we anticipated. Simply stated it's this; we are getting too good at saving people's lives. I'll qualify that. Lives are valuable and we ought to save them if possible.

A huge amount of money is invested in developing new drugs to cure a large range of illnesses and ailments which have been fatal to previous generations. Once tested, the first formats of such remedies are normally pretty expensive.

Equal, if not greater, sums of money are spent on defence, such that protective equipment is in existence which, for instance, substantially reduces the likelihood of bullets killing soldiers.

What happens? People die who are not administered the drugs. People die if they haven't got the bullet-proof gear. Inquests then suggest that the death was 'preventable' and grieving relatives are seen haranguing ministers to make sure 'this never happens again.' Of course as the devices/drugs get cheaper the likelihood of it happening again reduces, although, of course, new technologies come along to save some and not others and anger a new set of grievers.

Should we ever go to war with any less than the latest technology? Because old helicopters crash more than new ones should we only use new ones? Who would pay?

We are very afraid of mentioning money in a public discussion of this. If a cure for cancer was found tomorrow but its use would require 1p in the pound on income tax and you had a vote would you accept it? What about 5p? 20p?

The value of a life? We live in an age where we have to do such maths but not in an age where we are free to talk about it without an outcry.


Martin said...

If we pay 20p in the pound extra for a cancer cure, do we give less money away to people in areas where TB and Malaria a rife and people are poor and unable to pay for treatment, causing a net increase in deaths by trying to prevent them.

Mike Peatman said...

I've been thinking along similar lines to Martin. How on earth do you balance thousands of pounds' worth of treatment for one person seriously ill in the West (could be a loved one) against the same money saving hundreds or thousands of people via immunisation or simple treatments.