Thomas Sowell

A whole nation following the tragedy of a mine cave-in in Utah was struck by the further tragedy of another cave-in at the same mine, killing men who had gone underground to try to rescue the miners trapped there.

The second tragedy was avoidable -- but only if we were willing to talk about human life in terms of trade-offs. But our society has become too squeamish to do that.

As day after day went by, with no sign whatever that the trapped miners were still alive and with dwindling chances each day of their remaining alive, even if they had somehow survived the cave-in, at some point it makes no sense to risk more lives to try to save them.

"But what if it was your brother or your father down there?" some would say. "Would you want to stop looking if there was any chance at all that he might still be alive?"

The short answer is: What if it was your brother or your father who had to risk his life in a rescue attempt underground?

Trade-offs are inescapable in every aspect of life but anyone who talks about trade-offs when life is at stake is likely to be denounced as someone lacking in compassion, if not cruel.

Squeamishness is too often confused with humanity, but the consequence of squeamishness can be needless suffering and needless deaths.

Many a cold-blooded murderer has had his life spared because people squeamish about executions imagine that it is more moral or humane to lock him up for life -- or until he escapes or is pardoned someday when an even more squeamish governor is elected.

Additional people murdered by convicted murderers are part of the grim price paid for that squeamishness.

They can be murdered while in prison or on the outside, perhaps during one of those "furloughs" for prisoners so fashionable among those who flatter themselves as being more advanced thinkers than the rest of us.

The price of their vanity can be deaths more terrible than the executions they regard as too cruel to carry out.

Some of the victims of our squeamishness die unnoticed because their deaths are not considered to be as newsworthy as the deaths of victims of mine cave-ins or of murder.

Thousands of people die every year waiting for organ transplants that never come, and some of these deaths come at the end of months or years of debilitation and suffering.

In some countries, it is legal to purchase organs to be transplanted. Some people spend upwards of $100,000 to go to those countries for a transplant operation when they cannot get a kidney or a liver or other organ here.

Why is the selling of an organ illegal here? Because so many people are so squeamish about such a transaction.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate