“How Much Is A Life Worth?” by David A. Comissiong
How much is one precious God-given human life worth? Is it worth, one hundred thousand dollars? One million dollars? Or even thirty-five million dollars?
Back in February of 2013, Dr. Dexter James, the Chief Executive Officer of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, revealed in a Press Conference that the QEH was facing a severe problem of not having enough available beds and space for patients who needed to be admitted to hospital.
This revelation by Dr. James was not “new” to the Barbadian people! We were already well aware that the QEH – our only public hospital – was under tremendous strain and desperately needed additional resources. (Indeed, our eminent Barbadian cardiologist, Dr. Anthony Harris, recently emphasised the magnitude of the health challenge facing Barbados and the QEH when he revealed that Barbadians are suffering an average of 49 strokes and 11 heart attacks each month!)
In the weeks following the announcement of the budget cut the QEH has lurched from crisis to crisis! In early October 2013, the news broke that the pharmaceutical companies of Barbados had stopped supplying the QEH with 57 drugs pending payment of a $20 million debt owed by the QEH. Dr. Carlos Chase, president of the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners, characterised the situation as “dire“, charged that “our people’s health seems to have been sacrificed on the altar of ignorance“, and warned that “this state of affairs cannot end well for our nation.”
And then in mid-October 2013 we learnt that there was a critical shortage of ventilators for babies at the QEH. Indeed, it was revealed that Dr. Clyde Cave, the head of the QEH Paedriatrics Department, had actually written an e-mail to senior officers at the QEH in which he warned that – “one anticipates that babies will die this weekend as we are unable to respond with ventilator support.”
Well, I know only too well the dire implications of a lack of ventilator support for a fragile infant who is fighting for his or her life. At present I am dealing with the legal case of a 23 month infant who died at the QEH, and who had suffered from a series of ventilator malfunctions at the QEH in the days and hours leading up to her death. That case is currently before the Supreme Court. And so, it did not surprise me that within days of Dr. Cave’s warning that “babies will die“, I received a telephone call from a distraught woman, reporting to me that her newly born grand-child had, in fact, died at the QEH.
And so, I come back to the question that I began with - how much is a human life worth? Is $35 million worth the life of even one small precious new born baby? And what about the life of a truly accomplished and distinguished adult citizen of our country? How do we go about placing a value on such a life?
Just last week, we suddenly and tragically lost a woman who, by all accounts, was one of our most accomplished and dedicated Secondary School principals – the late Diana Wilson. As the multitude of heart-felt tributes emerged, and I learnt of the tremendous love and commitment that she had lavished on the hundreds of her young charges, I could not help but question myself as to the magnitude of loss that our nation had suffered as a result of her untimely death.
When a nation loses an educator who has devoted her entire life to reaching, touching, nurturing, and in many cases, rescuing the lives of its young people, and who had many more years of devoted service to give, how do we put a monetary figure on such a loss? Surely such a loss dwarfs the sum of $35 Million! Surely, such a loss is incalculable!
The point I am making is that no Government should ever compromise on the quality of health care that it makes available to its people, since the unnecessary loss of just one life is too large a sacrifice for the nation to bear!
Health care should always be the key priority of every Government, for the most precious of gifts we have been given by almighty God is life, and we are therefore dutibound to do all that we can to ensure that each and every citizen has access to quality health care that can protect and preserve his or her invaluable life.
The current Government was therefore wrong - totally wrong – to cut $35 Million from the budget of a struggling, cash-strapped QEH! There can be no doubt that such a budget cut has life and death implications for the people of Barbados. Babies will die, people will die, as a result of such a budget cut, and several of them may have died already!
If Government needs to cut its expenditure by $35 Million, find somewhere also to institute the cut. Do not do it to the country’s only public hospital! Do not inflict a cut that will result in the deaths of Barbadians.