Felix Stalder on Sun, 30 Aug 1998 15:56:38 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Betting on Death

Your Death is my Business.

The viatical industry is in the business buying up life insurance of
terminally ill people. Say you hold of life insurance of $ 100'000 and
need to the money to get the appropriate treatment for the illness or just
to spend it while you can. But the life insurance money won't come until
your dead. Here is where the viatical service comes in. A friendly broker
will buy your insurance policy, pay you, say, $ 50'00, take over the
policy and the payment of premiums and collect the money once your gone.
Mutually beneficial. If you die soon. Within a year and the broker makes a
killing, so to speak, 100% return. If you die in two years the return is
still ok. But if you, miraculously recover and live on happily for the
next couple of years, the broker sits on a foul investment: the insurance
policy that cannot be cashed. 

The viatical industry started up in the 1980s in the wake of the AIDS
epedemy and grew considerably in the 1990s. Many of the companies have
cashed in and are not traded on stock markets. Currently, the industry,
some 60 companies, does $ 650 -750 million in business a year and the
quicker its clients die, the better their return. In 1996, an AIDS
conference in Vancouver confirmed a breakthrough in AIDS research. For
this industry, good news are bad news.  The stock price of Dignity
Partners Inc, a San Francisco firm, plunged from $ 14.50 earlier the year
to just $ 1.38. 

Until that point, AIDS was a sure business. Once the illness was broken
out, there was high probability that the patient would die soon. That has
changed and the prospect of long-time suvivers seriously threatens the

However, there is ample room for market development. Thanks to a shifting
focus on cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ("Lou Gehrig's Disease"),
cardiovascular illness and the like.  William Keller, Executive Director
for the Viatical Association of America, expects the industry to "grow
substantially." But only if you die, the sooner the better. 

Viatical Association of America

There is no end to weirdness or capitalism.


Les faits sont faits.

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