How much is a life worth?

Jose A. Vidal
Published in
5 min readSep 30, 2023


On the 11th of this month of September, 22 years have gone by the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York City. None of us will ever forgotten that tragic day, where we were, what we were doing, and who we were with. In my case, in the Spanish time zone, I vividly remember arriving at my parents house for lunch and receiving a call on the landline from my girlfriend (now my wife and mother of my two children), telling me what had happened. As usual, she was thinking of the worst possible scenario, while I was considering a possible accidental plane crash… After the second impact, it became clear that she was right.

On that day, two commercial airplanes were hijacked by terrorists from Al-Qaeda and deliberately crashed into the two towers, causing their collapse. There was also another successful attack that same day on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., resulting in a significant loss of human lives with that third hijacked flight. The fourth flight did not achieve its goal: the Capitol, and it crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers revolted against the hijackers.

Official victim numbers vary, but approximately 2,977 people died as a direct result of the attacks. This includes those on the hijacked planes, in the Twin Towers, at the Pentagon, and the public emergency services personnel who tried to provide support and assistance during the attacks.

There were more people who suffered injuries, some of which were severe, but the exact number of injured has not always been officially provided or is difficult to determine accurately. These attacks had a lasting impact on the United States and the world, both in terms of loss of human lives and their political, social, and economic consequences.

In memoriam World Trade Center’s Twin Towers victims.

The big question for all those affected families, the American government, and insurance companies was: How much is a life worth?

The value of a life is a complex and subjective topic that has been the subject of philosophical, ethical, and economic debate for a long time. A precise monetary value cannot be assigned to human life, as it is inherently priceless. Every life has a unique and intrinsic value, and the idea of placing a price on a person’s life is generally considered immoral and ethically questionable.

After those attacks, a complex debate arose about how to address the cost of a life in terms of compensation and support for the victims and their families. This debate involved the affected families, the government, and insurance companies in an effort to provide justice and support to those who suffered losses.

The federal government responded by creating the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, which aimed to provide fair compensation to the families of the victims and survivors. Congress allocated significant funds for this purpose, recognizing the exceptional magnitude of the tragedy.

The resolution process involved determining eligibility and evaluating claims by a team of experts. Factors such as loss of income, medical costs, and the duration of exposure to danger were taken into account. As claims were resolved, the goal was to ensure that families received fair compensation and that survivors received the necessary medical care and support.

Insurance companies also played a role in resolving the debate by contributing a significant portion of the necessary funds and collaborating with the government in managing the compensation process.

Ultimately, while a price cannot be placed on a life, this combined approach of government support, financial resources, and coordinated efforts helped address the needs of the victims and their families more fairly in a time of great tragedy, recognizing the importance of preserving the dignity and well-being of those affected by the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Fortunately or unfortunately, professionals working in the field of Health Policy try to learn how to correctly use knowledge based on Health Economics and face these dilemmas every day. We seek to define the cost of a life using metrics such as Quality-Adjusted Life Years (QALYs), which assess the health and quality of life associated with a medical intervention. These indicators allow decisions based on the relationship between the benefits of medical care or treatment and their costs, contribute to more efficient resource allocation in the healthcare system. However, this approach poses ethical and methodological challenges, as it cannot fully quantify the intrinsic value of human life.

ES version


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The movie “Worth” addresses the dilemma of the value of a life after the September 11, 2001 attacks by following the story of lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, who leads the process of calculating compensation for victims and their families. The film explores how Feinberg and his team face ethical and emotional challenges in trying to quantify the cost of lost lives and find a fair solution amidst devastation and suffering. Through this narrative, the movie questions the very concept of placing a price on human life. It is available on various platforms such as Apple TV, Amazon Video, Google Play Movies online, and Google Play Movies.


ISPOR EU 2023 | November 12–15, Copenhagen, Denmark



Jose A. Vidal