They’ve Done It! Supreme Court Determines Official Monetary Value of a Human Life


By Megan McGrath and Justice Nathaniel Thomas

The Supreme Court has finally issued an opinion in the case Harrington v. Purdue Pharma. The verdict orders the Sackler family, former owners of Purdue Pharma — the company responsible for manufacturing and distributing the drug OxyContin — to pay $6 billion to victims of the opioid crisis in exchange for absolution from any further criminal and civil liability. 

This decision not only upheld the precedent for “nonconsensual third party releases” — the principle on which bankruptcy cases involving the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts were decided — it also set a new precedent: the monetary value of a life. With roughly 814,000 opiate overdose deaths between 1999 and 2020, the Sacklers’ payout would, according to our calculations, amount to $7,134.36 per life lost. Sure, if you wanna put a number on it, that’s as good as any other number, I guess. I personally wouldn’t assign any monetary value to the human soul. Not unless it would cover at least a semester of my tuition. But surely $7,134.36 could still get you a lot of things in this economy.

With that much money, one could purchase 450 large cheese pizzas from Papa John’s. That’s precisely 69,378.34 square inches in case you were wondering! Yup, we did the math (see our stoichiometric calculations below).

But who gets just cheese on their pizza? Grass-eaters Vegetarians? Couldn’t be us. We like an All-American assortment of toppings, including black olives, bell peppers and spicy Italian sausage. And why stop there? If you’re getting pizza, you’ve got to get something to drink, like a nice two liter bottle of Pepsi. 

If you factor garlic knots into the equation, you get a whole lot less bang for your buck. In fact, a life would only amount to 192.82 custom pizzas with a Pepsi and garlic knots. You heard me: in the so-called land of the free, one human life can’t even buy you 200 meals at Papa John’s. What a waste!

During court proceedings, Justice Elena Kagan along with Justice Samuel Alito summarized one of the many arguments in favor of this deal. Though the Sacklers likely have a net worth greater than $15 billion, most of their funds are locked away in offshore accounts intended to shield the family from taxes. As such, many believe this deal is the best bet for opioid victims to receive maximum compensation. In fact, by our calculations, this deal is wildly economical, as it can finance 40.58 trips from the Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut to the location of the Sacklers’ offshore accounts in Bermuda.

If you ask me, though, given the cash value of a fellow human’s livelihood and mortal soul, I’d buy myself this Gucci Dionysus messenger bag in beige leopard print fabric, conveniently priced at $7,035.00 with tax. 

This decision would have far-reaching implications for the greater drug dealing world if it weren’t for the U.S. government’s systemic preference for corporate addiction peddlers. Whereas the Sacklers only had to finance 450.69 Papa John’s cheese pizzas, 40.58 trips to Bermuda or a Gucci handbag for each life lost, unlawful distribution of a Schedule I controlled substance resulting in manslaughter would earn most homegrown drug dealers a 40 year sentence. Furthermore, in this ever changing economy, the purchasing power of the dollar seems to lessen by the day, and Papa John’s pizzas only increase in value. So, even if Johnny on the corner could use the Sacklers’ precedent as his defense during trial, it is improbable that local opiate distributors like him could cover the Supreme Court’s set price on a human soul. Such only goes to demonstrate the triumph of corporate drug dealers over self-made opiate peddlers back home. No wonder society is going to shit!

  • January 28, 2024