4. THE VALUE OF LIFE
USE THE Five SOURCES BELOW
Writing: pick your prompt
So far in this assignment sequence, we have heard a number of different voices giving insights into the value of life. Hamlet’s soliloquy offers an emotional, metaphor-laden glimpse into the thinking of a young man contemplating suicide. Chris Jones’s interview with Roger Ebert uses first-hand observations and excerpts from Eberts’s blog and movie reviews to convey how the film critic thinks about life. Amanda Ripley’s article from Time magazine provides insight into the problems involved in translating the concept of valuing life from abstract terms into actual dollars and cents. A Human Life Value Calculator establishes specific criteria for assigning monetary value to a person’s life. You might not fully agree or disagree with any of the texts’ essential claims about the value of life. This makes your voice an important contribution to this discussion about how we should value human life. Where do your ideas fit into the terrain mapped by the other texts we have read? Is it right to assign dollar values to a person’s life? Do suffering and illness impact how we should value life? Assume that the audience for your piece consists of intelligent citizens interested in this issue—the same types of people, for instance, who would read Time magazine. As you write your essay, think about the different ways the authors we have read make their points about valuing life. Depending on the points you are trying to make, you might want to use some metaphors for life, as Hamlet does, or share observations and anecdotes the way Chris Jones does. On the other hand, you may choose to include some words from people you interview, as Ripley does in her article, or you might even decide to establish some criteria for how human life should be calculated in monetary terms. As you construct your essay, make conscious choices about the ways you can represent your ideas to your reader about how society should assign value to human life. Be sure to refer to and cite the readings. You may also use examples from your personal experience or observations.
The following excerpt is from Steve Jobs’s 2005 Commencement Address at Stanford University. Read the passage carefully. Then write an essay in which you explain Jobs’s argument and discuss the ways in which you agree or disagree with his views. Support your position, providing reasons and examples from the readings in this module. You may also choose to include personal observations and experiences when appropriate. Organize your essay carefully.
"Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
"About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.
"I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.
This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”