What is the price of a human life?

It's a perverse, unconscionable calculation. But, as GlobalPost co-founder Charles Sennott explains, it's one that families and governments alike have had to weigh in the aftermath of the gruesome murder of journalist James Foley by militants from the Islamic State earlier this month. Foley had been contributing as a freelancer to GlobalPost when he disappeared in Syria in 2012. 

Before his death, Foley's family raised $5 million dollars of the $131 million requested by the Islamic State to offer in exchange for Foley's release. The United States, however, has a policy of refusing to pay ransom to terrorist organizations, which the State Department reiterated emphatically on Thursday.

“We believe that paying ransoms or making concessions would put all Americans overseas at greater risk," said spokeswoman Marie Harf, who noted that  it is illegal for American citizens to give money to a group classified as a terrorist organization -- even in the form of a ransom payment.

Complicating matters further is that policies vary wildly from country to country. While European countries like France, Spain, and Italy publicly deny that they have paid ransoms to terrorist organizations, the release of hostages after hefty payouts points to the contrary

Such inconsistencies, as Sennott points out, provide monetary incentives for militants to target foreign nationals. "That fragmented, fractured system weakens us all," he says.

To hear more from Charles Sennott on the moral dilemma of paying ransom, listen to his full interview on Boston Public Radio below.

sennott_082614.mp3