Saturday, February 06, 2010


there's been some news items lately that caught my eye. they relate to the relief operations in Haiti, but i find them interesting in other ways. i'll provide the series of links that have been occupying my thoughts recently:
what strikes me about these news items is what they indicate regarding the nature of survival.

typically, as alluded by some of the articles, the estimated survival time for a human being deprived of food or water (water being the greater delimiting factor) is 3-5 days. this is a rough value, and the time may be shorter or longer depending on a person's overall health, the level of exertion or stress they are experiencing, and the conditions they are under (e.g., high perspiration with elevated hearts rates while exposed to high heat and dry climate can significantly reduce the time, often to less than 48 hours).

but it's apparent--as exemplified by some of the stories from Haiti--that such estimates are just that: estimates. guesses. efforts to value things like human life...efforts that invariably are not always right. because for some reason(s), for some cause(s), for some way(s), some people exceed all notions of what is considered possible. elderly, infants, injured, individuals who we would consider less capable of withstanding conditions which we would consider insurmountable accomplish things that we would consider impossible. instead of 3-5 days, they made it 10, 11, 14, and if you continue to listen to more news reports, even 18 days after the earthquake, trapped beneath rubble with no food or water or even light or access to the outside air.

by all measures of probability, there were not supposed to be alive. but yet...they. simply. did. not. die.

on one level, this points out to me that rescue efforts are in some ways an efficiency-based policy. that is, the operations to find and retrieve victims trapped in the rubble are not purely about saving lives. because if they were, they would be cognizant of the possibility of some victims still being alive, no matter how improbable. instead, rescue operations are suspended after 10-11 days with the reasoning that the chances of finding survivors after then are low, even though some victims clearly manage to make it beyond then. this suggests that the operations aren't suspended because the chances of survival are low, but that rather the chances or too low to justify the expenditure of rescue costs.

on another level, this points out to me the resilience of the human being. resilience of the body. resilience of the spirit. that when faced with the horror of pain and suffering and the reality of death, people are still capable of living. that in situations when we think--either because we have been programmed by society or because we are just ignorant--that human life cannot endure, we find that it can...that things we think incredible are revealed as credible, that things we think unbelievable are shown to be believable, that things we think impossible are proven very much possible.

which gets to one of the messages i've learned from endurance sports: that no matter what we think we are, no matter what we think we can do, no matter what we think we have the potential to do, we are more.

we. are. more.


which leaves me with a troubling ethical question, and one that confronts every policy, especially ones like a rescue operation meant to find and retrieve survivors:

a rescue operations may cost money, and after awhile those costs do rise...but just what is the value of life?

what is the value of more?

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