HOW much is a human life worth? Author Lionel Shriver reckons she would value hers at about $20,000.
But in general, she told an audience at the Sydney Writers' Festival, she is "pro-death".
Her recent novel, So Much for That, about the financial and personal costs of dealing with illness, is a "pro-death book". She hoped it would make people think about the false hope given to terminally ill patients by expensive and painful treatments that in the end stave off death for only a short while.
"This book is about conventional medicine and economic waste," she said. "They spend $2 million on [the main character's] treatment and she dies anyway and not very much later than she would have had she simply been given palliative care."
Shriver was inspired to write the book by watching her close friend, Terry, die from the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma. "My friend Terry refused to admit she was dying," she said. "Her doctors were pouring so many resources into her surgery, and then a horrible series of chemotherapy treatments, and there is a certain logic to the thought, 'Why would you do all that if it didn't work?'"
Shriver, who was born in America but lives in Britain, said she admired countries such as Britain and Australia that have national healthcare systems that can make decisions about which drugs and treatments are worth money and which are not.
"They have actually put a literal price on human life in [Britain]; it is worth $15,000 a year," she said. "I thought that was a little on the low side. If it were a matter of my life I might throw in an extra five grand."
Lionel Shriver is also appearing at the First Tuesday Book Club today, We Need to Talk About America on Saturday and American Pie on Sunday.