Creating High Human Worth
Most writers when asked about this topic will fall back to the old life and death standard. Life and death struggle is the basest way of creating human worth. You ought to consider it as a priori and then go about figuring out how to add some depth lest you fall into the trap of predicability and end up with bored readers who chuck your book across the room (assuming you even get to the point of acquiring readers at all, which seems slim).
For anyone’s life to be worth saving (in fiction), it needs added value. And in the scale of values, nothing is more compelling than high principles and codes of personal conduct. We admire principled people. We try to emulate them. They are the model citizens without which our society would not be civilized.
To put a principled person at risk is to raise the stakes in your story to a high degree. Better still is to test that individual’s principles to the utmost. There is something gripping about the inner struggle to remain loyal to a passionately held belief.
This applies equally to the good as to the wicked. See my article on Extraordinary Popular Delusions by Charles Mackay. There has always been a popular admiration for high-profile thieves. This is because we assume that those thieves abide by a serious code, not our legal code, but that does not make it any less powerful, any less meaningful. In fact, it may make it even more important.