How do you quantify a life?

December 17th, 2013, 11am

Yesterday (Monday), my neighbors threw a wrecker of a Christmas party. They hung some mistletoe in the doorway, put some hot wine on the stove top and encouraged guests to arrive with tacky presents. I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about going, but it’s hard to avoid parties happening five feet away from you so I forced myself to be social and neighborly, bought a tacky present and joined the fray.

Early on, while looking for refreshments in the kitchen I overheard this: “How do you quantify a life? Can you discount it? That’s an interesting case, isn’t it?”

I looked at the speaker and immediately drew a few premature and unfavorable conclusions. He was white, American, an MBA student. He was speaking loudly, over everyone else in the kitchen and with such wide-eyed enthusiasm, such calculated, quantitative precision that I suspected the lives he was talking about weren’t American. Or European, for that matter.

He went on: “So, the question is if you have to pick between a Malaria vaccine that will take four years to produce and save 20 million lives and bed nets which will save 5 million lives a year, how do you make that calculation? How do you assess which lives are more worth saving?”

After engaging him in a brief conversation he revealed that he had been asked the question as part of a job interview for a social consultancy based in Geneva. The consultancy told him they were asked that question all the time, by various NGOs and governments.

Craig and Jacob said thanks.

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Dani Z

The hardest thing about getting older is realizing that I might, in fact, be a minor character in someone else's story. (I keep changing this bio. I'm not sure I'll ever nail it)

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