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Enlightening the cost of injury debate
  1. I B Pless, Editor

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    In the Opinion-Dissent columns of this issue, the contributors debate about the usefulness of cost of injury (or illness) studies that lack evidence of effectiveness. The arguments on each side are so well formulated that I will not venture to offer a personal opinion about which is right. But I have always been intrigued by the metaphysical challenge that health economists face when trying to place value on human life—an essential component of any such study.

    We use many techniques to accomplish this seemingly impossible task. I recently encountered one approach that has probably not received much attention. The details are in Leviticus, chapter XXVII. “And the Lord spoke unto Moses saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When a man shall clearly utter a vow of persons unto the Lord [this is interpreted as part of the process of setting a valuation upon oneself or one's family when making a pledge to God], then thy valuation shall be for the male from twenty years of even unto sixty years old, even thy valuation shall be fifty shekels of silver . . . and if it be a female, then thy valuation shall be thirty shekels”. The quotation continues, designating specific amounts depending on the age group, with a consistent gender bias suggesting that males of whatever age are worth approximately twice that of females. It is also noteworthy that the young and the old are valued less than those 20–60 years of age. The footnote explains that “the valuation seems to have been made on the basis of what might be called the market value of the individual's labour. A woman, not possessing the physical strength of a man, had a lower valuation set upon her”.

    My intention is not to foment further debate about sexism in the Bible, but to remind our debaters and other scientists that there is truly little new under the sun.