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Thích Nhất Thở v. Ares Air, Inc.

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.

~

Bio:

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

Philosophy Note:

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

Minutes of the Meeting of the Board of Directors of CYBIMPLANT INC held at 10:00 AM on 14 May 2036

AS RECORDED BY: RICK NOVY

PRESENT:

CHAIRMAN:

Kermit Sayman

PRESIDENT/CEO:

Louis Gormant

VICE PRESIDENTS:

Derek Fong

Khin-Khin Tanaka

Michel LaFond

DIRECTORS:

Jose Herrera

QUORUM: Met

AGENDA: (1) Action Regarding Delinquent Payments on Majority-Owned implant customers.

1.1  The board considered and unanimously approved the Draft Minutes of the meeting of 7 May, 2036 (DOC:CII-BM-20360507).

2.1  Mr. Sayman opened discussion of the first and only agenda item by displaying a graphic depicting the P&L figures for the current quarter. Cybimplant is bleeding capital and projections indicate a loss for the seventh consecutive quarter.  Mr. Sayman also reminded the board that Cybimplant has not issued a quarterly dividend for over a year, and B shares are at a historic low on the NASDAQ.

2.2  Mr. Sayman presented figures showing majority-owned customers as a percentage of all customers to be 7.2%, numbering 381,600 individuals. The percentage of delinquent accounts is 17%, numbering nearly 65,000 individuals at a total cost of over $90M in bad debt per month.

2.3  Mr. Sayman proposed Cybimplant implement a repossession program to recover the bad debt and bring the quarter into the black. He also suggested Cybimplant could initiate a secondary market program to monetize the repossessed implants.

2.4  Mr. Sayman requested open discussion on the agenda topic.

2.5  Mr. LaFond moved that the discussion of a secondary market program be tabled.

2.6  The board recorded its approval to table a discussion of a secondary market program.

2.7  Mr. Herrera asked Mr. LaFond for an approximate ROI on the cost of implementing and maintaining a repossession team. Mr. LaFond estimated ROI to be 41% during the first year, gradually dropping to a baseline of 15% over five years under a logistic function model.

2.8  Mr. Tanaka asked Mr. LaFond whether a 41% ROI would be sufficient to overcome the negative cash flow for Q2. Mr. LaFond said initial calculations indicate that as very likely.

2.9  Mr. Fong suggested shareholders will demand a dividend in Q3 if Cybimplant shows a profit in Q2. Mr. Gormant took the action item to write a shareholder letter to be mailed with Q2 results.

2.10 Mr. Herrera inquired whether a repossession program would include purchase plan delinquencies or be restricted to lease delinquencies.

2.11 Mr. Sayman reminded the board that purchase plan customers agreed to different language and expressed concern that the legal department would need beyond the end of Q2 to complete analysis and create language to justify repossession defensible in a court of law.

2.12 The board unanimously approved tabling a discussion of purchase plan delinquency repossession until the legal team completes its analysis.

2.13 Mr. LaFond requested clarification on whether life-critical implants would be included in the repossession program, as not including them might impact the ability of Cybimplant to eliminate the Q2 negative cash flow. Mr. Gormant reminded the board that lease customers must agree to all contract terms before an implant is installed, regardless of the implant purpose, and repossession of delinquent leased equipment is always a possibility in any industry.

2.14 Mr. Tanaka expressed concern that repossession of life-critical implants might result in a drain on revenues in the form of wrongful death lawsuit defense. Mr. Sayman stated that lawsuits are a recognized and budgeted cost of doing business and wrongful death lawsuits were expected to be well within acceptable numbers for the industry.

2.15 Mr. Gormant moved that the proposal be brought to a vote. The motion was seconded by Mr. Fong. The board recorded its unanimous approval of the creation of a repossession program for delinquencies under lease for majority-owned customers. Mr. Tanaka was given the action item to implement the decision immediately.

3.1 Mr. Gormant moved to adjourn. The motion was seconded by Mr. Herrera. The board adjourned at 10:38 AM.

~

Bio:

Rick Novy is an engineer by day and writer by night. He lives in Arizona. Learn more at ricknovy.com.

Three Scores And Ten

by Ramez Yoakeim

Nearly blind, the farmer navigated the forest floor by touch. Her gnarly fingers scattered the snow from the flaring trunks of ancient pines, in search of tubers and hardy mushrooms. When the concussive booms of atmospheric entry scattered the accumulations off the branches, she lifted her head, as far as her hunch would permit, and looked with milky eyes towards the horizon, and the arc of fire splitting the heavens.

The curious farmer followed the rivulets of molten snow up the low hill, to the cratered grave of the cometary fragment, where it lay sizzling from the ordeal of its extra-solar journey.

She caressed the fractured glassy exterior, and scraped her liver-spotted skin on the shard-riddled interior; sparing the meteorite’s fragile molecular passenger Sol’s lethal ultraviolet deluge.

Grim soldiers came knocking but the farmer’s sole surviving son answered only in grunts. Two weeks passed before he first noticed the beginnings of his mother’s metamorphosis. It took three-months more for her back to straighten, eyes to clear, and hair to regain its long-lost chestnut luster. Though imperceptible day-to-day, a crone more vibrant than blushing maidens could not go unnoticed by the villagers for long.

Word spread, drawing dour white-coated men brandishing tools to prick and prod, analyze and scrutinize. Within merely a year of its earthfall, the molecular traveler unveiled itself, for it never intended to remain hidden.

The cellular rejuvenation it imparted obviated the need for division, and the unavoidable accompanying risks of DNA degradation and runaway growth. Intensive study ensued, charting the molecule’s many boons. From immunity to pathogens, to heightened mental acuity, and elevated cognitive function. Medical types and philosophers alike whispered breathlessly, shyly pondering the demise of humanity’s most ardent foe. Short of accident or foul play, what avenues to those endowed remained for death to intrude?

A dozen months passed before the mighty could refrain no more. They drank thirstily from the interstellar gift’s fount, drawing the ire of all. Those once ailing at death’s door reemerged from intensive care wards flaunting vigor no surgeon’s knife nor physician’s elixir could bestow.

Overnight, those living under the yoke of presidents-for-life had an eternity more to lament their woes. Aspiring heirs to billionaires were left rudderless and distraught.

Clamoring masses–witnessing the monopolization of the ultimate prize by those who already owned everything–thundered in the streets. Make whole our broken, they roared, cure our ills. Let the heavens’ gift lift the downtrodden and lame, as it once did a gnarly penurious farmer.

Voices long-practiced at casting doubt on the tumult of a convulsing planet in the throes of calamitous change, suddenly discovered their inner conservationists. How could Earth cope with billions of immortals, with a billion more added every decade or two? Responsibility, stewardship, and stability all demanded that the miraculous gift be rationed; restricted to a few.

Only those who had earned favor may partake of life everlasting. Only those deemed worthy could be permitted to turn away from the indomitable Reaper. Prove yourself then, before praying for a reward, the mighty exhorted, as if the miracle was their own.

A pervasive ranking system sprung to judge the worth of all. Do as told and rise, fall short and have solely yourself to blame. For privation, infirmity, and death. Climb then, with your worthiness score, the rungs of an endless ladder, sprouting more steps than the stars.

Kicking those below and clawing at those above, humankind set to climbing, gleefully imagining eternity attained. Until the all-consuming race to the promised immortality spluttered to an uncertain fearful halt.  Long since grown accustomed to the benefits due the first immortal, one morning the farmer failed to arise from her slumber.

Shock and disbelief ensued. How could she perish? Had she been poisoned? Was it even possible to envenom the perdurable? Could her silks have spelt her doom? She had indulged to surfeit, the glitterati droned, eaten to excess, strained to exhaustion, rejoiced immoderately, lived too fully. Surely, the fault was none other’s but her own.

The autopsy showed frayed arteries and veins, liquified organs, and the decayed vitals of a crypt postponed. Cells once rejuvenated by the molecule were undone by its machinations; deconstructed to constituent biochemical ingredients. What it once bestowed, and more, the molecule slyly reclaimed.

Whilst they sought its largesse, none questioned whence it came, or to what end. Turn away from the gift horse, they insisted, avert your gaze from its mouth. With death within the stride, however, they dissected the horse; hide and all, uncovering isotropic timers buried deep within the molecule’s intricate innards.

All told, one hundred forty-four thousand received the molecule’s pourboire. Presidents and prime ministers, queens and princes, billionaires and celebrities, grifters and sycophants alike awoke to tidings of certain doom.

Frantically they counted the days since they received the molecule’s bequest, and the days that then remained till their eternity ended. They spared no effort searching for an antidote. At first, one that retained immortality while diffusing the accompanying fuse. Failing that, means to purge the molecule altogether, reverting to what once had been. Finally, any means to stave off a resurgent death; even if only until dawn.

The molecule’s makers’ aim had been to depopulate the earth, ready it for those who sought to conquer it with nary a photon beam. Using instead an irrepressible ailment disguised as a boon.

Their failing, and humankind’s grace, had been in gravely overestimating our community mindedness. Cooperative we might be when requisite, but only as a molehill stands at the foot of the Everest of our greed. We proclaim commonwealth even when our biology demands we hoard every advantage within grasp’s reach. Even those that spell our ruin. The farmer’s son witnessed the internment of her remains alone. After, in their old hovel, he retrieved a shard she hid in a wall, and pricked his finger. Then again, to be sure. It mattered not the manner of death he met, if for three scores and ten months he lived secure.

~

Bio:

Ramez Yoakeim’s academic research once involved engineering perfectly believable details out of nothing. Fiction seemed like the obvious next step. At one time or another an engineer, educator, and entrepreneur, these days Ramez devotes himself to charting humanity’s future, one tale at a time. Find out more about Ramez and his work at yoakeim.com.

Revolutionary Technologies

by C. Richard Patton

“Yes, Chip, there’s risk — more risk than going to work for Westinghouse. But they aren’t doing what we do. We’re making next generation changes to society, to the world, through technology. These career decisions, these life decisions… It’s not about playing it safe. It’s all about a lack of future regrets.”

That was it for me. I was in. I went to work for T. Colton, CEO of TPresence, Inc., in the spring of 2000. T was the most visionary and hip boss I’d had. Yes, everyone called him “T”, he may have had a full first name, but I never heard it, and I never asked. He wore his hair in a pony tail and at 29 was 5 years my junior.

It was the Internet bubble, Y2K had just fizzled. TPresence was a start-up spun out of Carnegie Mellon University. Their product was virtual reality. For me, after 8 years with big companies, the TPresence office was virtual reality, too.

We were innovators. Computer scientists, roboticists, digital artists. Free soft drinks. Free lunch. Nerf guns and Razor scooters for real battles among the cubicles and Unreal Gold on the servers for after-hours virtual wars. Flex time. A free flow of ideas. Cutting edge  prototype hardware, Coppermine CPU’s and  prototype graphics chips. Intel loved us, we were building consumer appetites for faster iron.

Working at TPresence was cool, fast, fun, and it was over in 14 months. The deep-pocketed backers, the Oscar winning actor, the tool inventor from the infomercials, the resort owners, they dried up as the Internet bubble burst. We’d blown through 5 million dollars and all we’d ever produced were a couple of wicked cool demos, zero sales. Holodesk, the virtual world where you could join your friends as a customized 3-D avatar and shop, chat, play gravity-defying sports, or just hang out, peaked at slightly over 200,000 non-paying members. We never asked them for a dime.

Early in the summer of 2001, as salaries were halved and the vintage Charlie’s Angels pinball machine was sold, optimism waned and tempers flared. The headcount peaked at 32. The girl who ran Human Resources quit first. Giving out five figure signing  bonuses was fun, but she wanted no part of the blood bath to come.

Others stressed and left, too. T Colton was forced out by the Board of Directors. Some of us clung to the dream. The following phrase appeared one day on our main white board: “Forgive us our Tpresences, as we forgive those who Tpresence against us.” No one erased it. It remained there, in blue low-odor dry erase ink, during the auction. I myself bought a Steelcase desk and 18 computer keyboards, including two Naturals, for exactly twenty-three bucks. It was over.

###

TPresence was prologue. T called me aside at our off-site failure party following the auction.

“The shutdown timing is actually pretty good. A few of us are starting something new. We’d like you to join us.”

So that’s how I became one of six founding employees at the phoenix company, Revolutionary Technologies, Inc. We just called it RevTech. At least that’s the nickname we started with. RevTech had no outside investors at first. It was a real start-up, not some Power Point preso looking for angels. TPresence had been all about easy money and style. RevTech was about sweat equity and results.

T’s idea was simple, we would revolutionize the fast food industry through automation and the branch of robotics called “machine vision”. T had a PhD in it. Set up a few bullet cameras around a McDonald’s or a BK and they’d know when their customers were arriving, and who they were. Here comes soccer mom and three kids so get the chicken nuggets ready, and a salad for Mom.

Automate the food prep machines and the cash registers and you could decimate labor costs. That pesky high turnover rate among minimum wage fry slingers would be history, too. There was already another company that could make a pizza completely inside a contraption that looked a lot like a 1950’s juke box — all we had to do was make one for burgers and fries.

###

We set up in T’s walkout basement. Brought our own office chairs and computers (some straight from the TPresence auction). I donated the Natural keyboards to the cause — the other two developers were fond of them, but I couldn’t get comfortable on the angled halves. I stuck with a standard keyboard with a full wrist pad and nursed my carpal tunnel syndrome. We used coupons at Staples for office supplies. We took no salary except RevTech stock, scheduled to vest over 3 years, and health insurance. And we built  something that we could sell.

T took a part time job at McDonald’s. For research. But he cashed his paychecks. T had put his own money into the company. The rest of us either didn’t have any or had family obligations. That was my excuse: a wife and two kids.

We learned to call it “The Quick Serve Restaurant Industry” instead of “Fast Food” and we pitched our ideas to dentists. They can be great angel investors, lots of cash and not too financially savvy. We practically lived in T’s basement, working on our first version, dubbed “Revolutionary Rob”. I only ever went upstairs for the microwave, to nuke my lunch. A bare bones, pure software demo version of Revo Rob was ready in 3 months.

###

After that it all happened quickly. Burgers, chicken patties, and French fries were all easy to cook with machines, at least for people who had automated wheat harvesting via giant driverless combines down to a few centimeters by using differential GPS. Ketchup, mustard and diced onions were easy, and when other condiments looked like they might be tricky, T declared, “We won’t be stopped by pickles.” And we weren’t.

The prototype Revo Rob was installed at a franchise store owned by the grandson of the inventor of a million-selling sandwich whose name rhymes with Big Snack. Revo Rob was installed below the corporate radar. It wasn’t on their approved equipment list, just like the famous sandwich almost 40 years earlier wasn’t on the corporate approved menu. Within 6 months the store manager swore he’d quit if they made him “fire” Revo Rob. There was no going back..

###

The robotics were cool, and kids loved to watch the articulated metal arms plop the patties on the bun bottoms. Then it would squirt on the mustard and ketchup in a bi-colored stream just before the sesame-seeded top dropped on. Our featured stores had more spectators than a Krispy Kreme Doughnuts during spring break. But the genius of the Revo Rob system, and the intellectual property value, was in what our patent filing called “impending demand”. This is where my contribution came in. I’m a software guy and I tied the data from the machine vision system with counts from the automated kitchen equipment. Strategically placed cameras tracked the customers as they approached the restaurant and the registers inside. Meanwhile, RFID tags in the loyalty cards carried by the customers let us know that a double cheeseburger combo meal with a chocolate shake kicker was about to be ordered. Setting a freshly mixed shake in front of someone before they’d even gotten their wallet out of their pocket always drew a smile.

And the system evolved from there. The RFID cards tracked the customers and tied in with a payment system through the new smart phones that everyone was getting. Pretty soon we knew precisely when millions of people wanted to eat, and what they wanted. And we started delivering. I mean not just fulfilling the need, but driving the food to their house, or their work, or while they were out walking their dog. This made us, including me, a lot of money, at least on paper. I had my founder’s shares of Revolutionary Technologies stock. Of course the percentage of the company that I owned went down every time we took investor funding, but the old    start-up adage was working perfectly, I had a smaller and smaller slice of a much, much, much bigger pie. When we IPO’d my net worth on paper was into seven figures and kept climbing. I should have sold at least half of it on the first trading day after the holding period expired. Sold it and moved to Australia. Only that wouldn’t have been far enough. RevTech had sold the rights in Australia early on to raise cash, but it’s the farthest place I could think of and there came a time when just getting away, as far away as possible, would have been a good idea.

You see, Revo Rob became pervasive, and more than that, it became invasive. The impending demand algorithms knew when the customers wanted our food. It was like a gigantic Pavlov’s dog experiment with ESP. They’d start salivating and we’d drop cheap, low nutrition food in their hand. We’d shrunk the robotics and added refrigeration. Our most loyal customers had a portable robotic kitchen with them 24/7, and if they twitched just so and leaked a few pheromones out through their pores, Runaround Rob whirred and heated and plopped them out the answer to their personal craving. But the portability of Runaround Rob required stable ingredients (“inputs” we called them, just like the rest of the impending demand data, it was all just inputs to us). The food stored in Rob had to be almost inert, so it could last a long time in the portable unit. This meant that nutritional value, and taste, suffered. Rob got a reputation worse than McDonald’s, or even Arby’s, ever had. It should have been clear that it was far past time to cash out and get my name off the downhill slide. I might have gotten away with at least a piece of my self-respect, and a big chunk of cash, even if my reputation was already doomed.

But I couldn’t quite let go. Something in my ambitious self, that self that had been lured into RevTech by a long-haired visionary with a letter instead of a first name, felt incomplete. Both T and I had had a desire to change the world. We’d done that. But not without those regrets we’d wanted to avoid. I still hoped to fix it, to pull us out of the vortex that we were spiraling into. We’d succumbed to the price pressure, to the  marketplace demands, and to the constant and growing impending demand from our millions and millions of customers.

That’s when the new nickname popped up and burst any lingering bubble of hope we may have still had. Who knows where these things originate in this Internet Age, but it was popularized by a blog on Huff Post Green. They blasted our product for everything from its energy footprint to not using locally sourced ingredients. Of course they hit us for the bad taste of the food itself, too. And we deserved it, we really did. You’ve probably guessed the nickname by now, it was clever, or everyone thought so at the time. It was simple, too. I guess these things usually are. And it was devastating. They just squeezed a couple letters out of RevTech and the stock plummeted faster and our sales tanked. My reputation and my net worth both took a nose dive. I had let my family down. But it was the knowledge that our monstrosity had changed the world for the worse rather than for the better that really made me ReTch.

~

Bio

C. Richard Patton resides among rocket scientists and roboticists in Huntsville, Alabama where he writes software, poetry and a variety of short fiction. One of his medieval fantasy stories comes with a polyhedral dice game that he designed for Chipsterzone Games. Or perhaps it is the other way around.