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Say a person is stuck inside a cave that's collapsed, and the cost to get them out would be $100,000. Would most western governments pay this to get them out? Almost certainly. How about $1,000,000? Probably. And $10,000,000? Maybe not.

Is there a limit at which it would be ethically acceptable to not help the person out, simply because of cost?

If it exists, is this limit any lower when an accident hasn't occurred? Say the government knew that if they didn't spend $1,000,000 or more on a certain traffic intersection, the death toll would increase by one. Is there a limit at this point at which the economic costs overweigh the ethics of it leading to a death?

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A little point of reference: The Chile Mine collapse rescue work cost $20 million for 33 workers. Would the same have happened if it were only one? –  DarkLightA Jan 15 '13 at 20:32
Only if there a point where it's ethically acceptable to let a person die, right? (Can you unpack this a bit further?) –  Joseph Weissman Jan 15 '13 at 20:49
I guess I'm just not sure it's the most urgent or constructive way to frame the problem. Could you tell us a little bit more about why this might have become important or interesting to you? What might you have found out so far? What are you expecting in an answer? –  Joseph Weissman Jan 15 '13 at 21:22
Well, but that's not the question. The government would most probably not spend the 1,000,000 on foreign aid instead, and the celebrities can't be made accountable for the accident and therefore theor money has nothing to do with it. At all. –  iphigenie Jan 16 '13 at 0:23
Questions of ethics without reference to any particular ethical doctrine are outside the scope of this site. We are looking for academic-style questions with definite answers rather than questions which elicit lengthy discussion and answers without any particular focus. Your question is interesting, but is better suited for chat. :) –  stoicfury Jan 16 '13 at 6:52
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Sure. At some point the cost of saving a person could cost so much that it could endager the lives of other people. Imagine a government that needed to pay for a water purification system and the cost of saving someone in a specific emergency situation would effectively remove their water purification capability, and that would undoubtably endanger many lives. In such a case it could be argued that it is ethically right to not spend the money to save the one person.

Lives are weighed when money isn't an object, in cases where the danger to the rescuers becomes very great the rescue can be called off, effectively condemning the person in need of rescue to death. If money becomes a true factor in the weighing of life and lives, as disturbing as it seems, someone will be forced into a hard decision. But the fact that money is involved in the weighing of lives doesn't in and of itself make the decision immoral.

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Is there a limit at this point at which the economic costs overweigh the ethics of it leading to a death?

A life is priceless, but life insurance has a price. This is the price that in practice people are willing to pay. A life is priceless, but a public health service has a limit on the budget.

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The most reasonable response I can imagine here. –  Joseph Weissman Jan 16 '13 at 1:58
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I think you meant "on purely Monetary grounds", since Economy would peg money and people as just another two resources and then ask what the agent prefers.

If the agent is Human, and you weigh money and human lives against each other, you get a lot of angry responses along the lines of "human lives are invaluable."

It is of course true that human lives isn't generally an object of trade, but consider this:

  • Option A: Spend 100$ on medicine for a disease that will kill 1 person.
  • Option B: Spend 100$ on medicine for a disease that will kill 10 people.

Quite clearly the right choice in this situation is B. This is called consequentialism, and basically answers most of these dilemmas:

  • If the money can be used to save more lives that it cost acquiring, it is worth it.
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except not at all, what if option B is "spend 1100$ to save 10 people" versus A: "spend 100$ to save only 1 person" (can't purchase more than once). Things don't behave linearly, and this makes reasoning incredibly difficult, especially when you try to introduce probability of death or probability of saving which is what happens in all situations. –  Artem Kaznatcheev Jan 18 '13 at 3:10
@ArtemKaznatcheev Yes, I know, human ethics are really, really complicated. OP asked whether there exists a situation where money decide survival, not wether all situations have that property. –  Karl Damgaard Asmussen Jan 20 '13 at 19:55
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