by Owen G. Tabard
Justice Tran, delivered the opinion of the Supreme Court of Mars, in which Justices Alvarez, Chen, Jones, Khan, Mittelberg, Schull, and Zhang joined. Chief Justice De La Paz filed a separate opinion dissenting from the judgment of the Court.
Justice Tran, writing for the Court:
This case comes to us on review of an order by the Circuit Court of Monte Pavo granting summary dismissal of an action for damages due to wrongful death brought by appellant, the estate of Thích Nhất Thở, against Ares Air, Inc., a Mars Corporation, appellee.
The following facts of the case are not in dispute:
Thích Nhất Thở was a monk at the Plum Blossom Buddhist Center located in the downtown dome of Monte Pavo. Thích had subscribed to an oxygen policy with Ares Air, Inc., upon emigrating to Mars on October 1st, 2325. The subscription was on a month-to-month basis.
On March 1st, 2337, Thích missed his monthly oxygen payment, due at the first of the month with a contractual five-day grace period. After the five-day grace period had elapsed, Thích was emailed a notice of late payment, automatically generated by Ares Air. On April 1st, 2337, Thích missed his second payment, and on April 6th, 2337 received his second automated notice. On April 7th Thích was contacted in person at the Plum Blossom Buddhist Center by Millicent Royle, a representative of Ares Air. During this conversation Thích communicated to Ares Air his unwillingness to cure the arrearages.
At this point the facts as alleged by the parties diverge. According to the testimony of Ms. Royle, during the April 7th meeting, Thích represented that he had made alternative arrangements for oxygen and would no longer need the services of Ares Air. Appellant, however, maintains that during the April 7th meeting Thich made clear to Ms. Royle that he had made no alternative arrangements and asserted that he was entitled to oxygen “by human right.” There is no recorded evidence of the substance of the April 7th conversation between Thích and Ms. Royle. It is undisputed that Ares Air took no steps to confirm that alternate arrangements for oxygen had been made, and that Thích had not, in fact, made any such arrangements. At 12:01 AM on April 8th, 2037, Ares Air’s administrative AI ordered the shutoff of oxygen service to Thích, and at 12:07 AM on April 8th, 2037, Thích expired. The cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation resulting from oxygen shutoff.
We see no need to resolve the factual dispute as to the substance of the conversation between Thích and Royle. The question of whether or not Ares Air knew or should have known of Thích’s arrangements for sustenance upon termination of his oxygen subscription does not bear on the legal merits of the case.
The question before the court is whether Ares Air has, through its termination of oxygen services, breached its duty of care to Thích. We find that it did not.
In order to sustain an action for negligent wrongful death, the plaintiff must demonstrate that a duty of care existed toward the plaintiff. This case is distinguishable from Carol v. Peacock Mountain Oxygen and Atmosphere, Inc., where “an oxygen provider that fails in [its] duty and causes the asphyxiation of a lapsed policyholder will be liable for damages due to wrongful death.” In the Peacock Mountain case, the termination of service was accidental, the result of an improperly processed payment. Here, the nonpayment (and the resultant termination of service) were intentional acts, and we hold that the doctrine of double-effect applies.
The doctrine of double-effect states that an action may have one intended outcome, traditionally relieving suffering, while at the same time an unintended outcome, death. The double-effects of alleviating suffering and death are not intended equally; the primary intention of euthanasia is therapeutic, the death of the patient only obliquely intended. The doctrine serves the very significant public policy of promoting therapeutic euthanasia, and is the mechanism that relieves the attending physician of liability. (See: Ellsberg v. People of Monte Pavo, 89 Mars Reporter 2nd 128). In terminating service upon the second missed payment, the primary intention of Ares Air was to uphold its contract; death of Thích Nhất Thở was only the oblique intention, secondary and subordinate to a lawful termination of oxygen.
We hereby AFFIRM the lower court’s dismissal.
Chief Justice De La Paz, dissenting:
What my esteemed colleague refers to as a “factual dispute” of the knowledge of Ares Air regarding the lapse in Thích Nhất Thở’s oxygen policy is anything but. Indeed, one would have had to be scrupulously avoiding the newsfeed in early 2337 to be unfamiliar with the oxygen boycott planned by the Plum Blossom Buddhist Center. That Millicent Royle may or may not have had actual knowledge on April 7th is immaterial. As Appellant has demonstrated, knowledge can be imputed to Ares Air by the sheer volume of publicly available information to that effect. Ares Air either knew or should have known about the plans of one or more monks at the Plum Blossom Buddhist Center to allow a voluntary lapse of their oxygen policy.
The court takes a breathtaking step in expanding the doctrine of double-effect beyond the limited instances of euthanasia and assisted suicide. There is nothing to be found in the law of Mars or Earth to warrant the expansion of the doctrine from its limited scope in end of life care to the far different arena of consumer oxygen subscriptions.
While Appellant’s argument for “oxygen rights” under natural law is specious and quite radical, there is nevertheless a duty on the part of the oxygen provider never to allow a lapse in oxygen. The proper legal recourse against an oxygen debtor is in the civil courts, not through termination of the debtor’s oxygen supply. For this reason I respectfully DISSENT.
Owen G. Tabard is a life-long fan of speculative fiction and also has long had an interest in speculative philosophy. He lives with his family in South Florida. His blog may be found at http://owengtabard.blogspot.com
One of the problems of human rights we face today is the extension of rights into the realm of necessities of life, a problem which pits economic considerations against the more fundamental concerns of human dignity, and which would likely present itself all the more acutely in the context of a human settlement on a planet inherently hostile to life. For a good discussion of an analogous subject, see: Adams, Kristen David (2009) “Do We Need a Right to Housing?,” Nevada Law Journal: Vol. 9 : Iss. 2, Article 3. Available at: https://scholars.law.unlv.edu/nlj/vol9/iss2/3