What Is the Value of a Human Life? Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die?

I spent the last several decades fighting for expedited treatment, reversal of regulations that got in the way of treatment and assuring that a well-rounded set of services were available for people living with HIV and AIDS. There were those who said, that AIDS was a deserved plague. Does anyone deserve to die by disease? For most rational people, we very quickly say of course not. It is preposterous that anyone would think such a thought. Yet it happens all the time. When I started my work at GMHC, the Executive Director at the time, Ana Oliviera, wanted to really drive this point home. She knew I was a Jew and that the word extermination is a very sensitive one to me. The statement made was, "Don't you get it? They want to exterminate people with HIV." Those words ring in ears like it was yesterday. The "they" was the U.S. government as they slowly made new antiretroviral therapy available to all people and continued to have laws that prevented people from getting optimal prevention and care.

In the Jewish religion the days of awe just passed. These are the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. During this time Jews ask that their lives be sealed in the book of life for one more year. It is the days that we are introspective and reflect on our actions of the past year and goals for the New Year. After all, if I am asking for another year of life, don't I have an obligation to make it a productive year that benefits more than just myself?

In this past year, as the war raged in Israel, innocent lives were lost as is true in all the battlegrounds that occur across the globe. Some of the lives were young people who lost their lives soldiering for their country because they were trained to take up their country's political or religious stance; others lost their lives because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some were babies and children who never got to live long enough to find out about the joys and sorrows of life, and others were older adults dying a very unnatural life.

Today, once again, I hear humans making a judgment that one life is more valuable than another. Are some of these lives more valuable than others? Is it the child, the older adult, the person dying of disease? Who are we to judge? And yet some people seem to think they do have that right. How do you judge the value of a human life? If it were your life, dying at war or dying of disease, are you prepared to have another person place a value on your life?

Who shall live and who shall die?