Can a price be put on human life? The answer would seem to be “no”: a human being is priceless, his worth cannot be determined in terms of money. The very idea appears to violate the principle of human dignity.

And yet determining the concrete value of a person is exactly what innumerable experts worldwide are engaged in: healthcare economists, insurance brokers, doctors, politicians. Their calculations affect traffic accident victims and fallen soldiers; they play a role in developing environmental and disaster plans of government agencies, and in measuring the "human capital" of a business.

"What am I worth?" asks filmmaker Peter Scharf shortly before his fiftieth birthday, and embarks on a quest to put a number on his own very personal monetary value. His journey takes him to German pharmacies, universities, and even sperm banks, before continuing to Ukraine, Moldavia, Italy, England, Scotland, and the US. In Moldavia the filmmaker meets people who have received 2,500 dollars for their kidneys, while in Switzerland a young man is given twenty times that amount for the tattooed skin of his back…

It goes without saying that he also meets the big names of the trade in human value, like charismatic US lawyer Kenneth Feinberg. Working on behalf of the US government, Feinberg has almost single-handedly determined the individual compensation sums for the roughly 3,000 victims of 9/11. Altogether this amounts to seven billion dollars—and is based on a procedure that is viewed with skepticism by the victims’ families. Why should the family of a fireman who died in the ruins of the World Trade Center receive significantly less compensation than a company executive who died during the same attack? According to a quick calculation by Feinberg, the filmmaker’s family would have received roughly a million dollars “tax-free” for his demise, but far below the average. After all, he’s already getting on in years and his level of income isn’t exactly sky high…

“The Price of My Life” is an absurdly comical and enlighteningly unsettling trip through six different countries. The audience is led into a world where the monetary calculation of human worth has long since become business as usual.  It is a journey to the self-confident masters of putting a price on the value of a human life and, at the same time, a touching encounter with people who have been calculated right down to the last dollar and cent.

“The Price of my Life” - A road movie through the fascinating and bizarre world of those who appraise human worth.


Script: Peter Scharf & Jörn Klare
Director: Peter Scharf
Director of photography: Oliver Schwabe
Sound: Robert F. Kellner
Editor/Co-director: Oliver Held
Production Manager: Monika Mack, Rolf Bremenkamp
Producer: Birgit Schulz
Commissioning editors: Thomas Janssen (ZDF/3sat), Sabrina Hermsen (ZDF info), Birgit Keller-Reddemann (WDR)

On behalf of ZDF and WDR, 2014, 90 min cinema documentary, 60 min & 4 x 15 min

Subsidized by Film- und Medienstiftung NRW, BKM and DFFF

Original title: Was bin ich wert?

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