Forced medicine

A woman in Massachusetts was just found guilty of attempted murder for withholding cancer medication from her autistic son, who has since died. Go read that article for the specifics. No, really. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

OK, so, there are a number of question raised by this case, some of them moral/ethical questions, some of them legal. But, before the sound and fury about this case (which I predict will only last about three days in the mainstream press) abates, I want to concentrate on this question: instead of withholding the drugs for her own reasons, suppose the woman withheld the drugs because she could not afford them. Would she then still have been found guilty of attempted murder?

I suspect a lot of people would say no, reasoning that a jury would find that, even if she wanted to provide the drugs, she couldn’t get them anyway, thus absolving her of the responsibility.

Now, suppose you agree with that. What this verdict then means is this: the state can now force you, under penalty of imprisonment, to consume medication if you can afford it. It is no longer your choice to consume life-saving medication, or to make that choice for your children. If you can afford it, you must purchase and use it, or go to jail. At least, this is true when (as is typically the case) your children are assumed not to be able to make legally binding choices for themselves.

Or, maybe it doesn’t mean that. Instead, maybe it means that the state now considers there to be a legal difference between choosing to consume life-saving medication for yourself vs. making that choice for your children. But if it isn’t the parent’s choice, whose choice is it? The only other possibilities are the child or the state. If it is the child’s choice, then the child has just been given a legal mandate to control the spending of others for his own benefit (“Ma, the doc gave me a prescription for a new Audi. Pony up!”), and if the others don’t like it, they can go to jail. If it is the state, then the state is now making medical and moral choices for its citizens. Neither of these two alternatives is all that palatable.

Another thing bothers me about this case. The state charges that Kristen LaBrie caused the death of the child by withholding the meds. The child is dead because, as the state would have you believe, his medicine was withheld. Then why is the state charging her with attempted murder? If you believe the state, then isn’t it full-on successful 100% genuine murder?

It’s likely that the attempted murder charge was used because it has a much lower burden of proof for the state, and the prosecutor didn’t think he could make a full murder charge. If that is the reason, then it suggests that this whole case is some sort of political wet dream agenda from the D.A.’s office. “Sorry Ms LaBrie. Nevermind that your son was autistic, had leukemia and died, you need to go to prison so that I can prove something to someone, somewhere.” The whole thing sickens me.

I may have more to say about this later. Right now, my neighborhood watch officer is telling me it’s time to take my soma.

Out Classed

After screwing up yesterday’s post about a class action suit, I spent a while prowling the net for photos of the actual class council (rather than the defendant’s lawyers). In looking for information on Seth A. Safier, Esq., came across another class action lawsuit he settled. This one accused a software store of selling used CDs as new.

Two things jump out at me:

  1. The settlement is much the same as the Netflix settlement: a piddling award for the “victims”, no admission of guilt or permanent change to the business and a sizable paycheck for the attorneys.
  2. The class representative is also named Chavez.

Draw your own conclusions.


I’m not the only blogger to mention this, but in this case the wider the message gets the better. My e-mail queue tells me that, though I no longer use Netflix

You are receiving this notice because you were a paid Netflix member before January 15, 2005. Under a proposed class action settlement, you may be eligible to receive a free benefit from Netflix.

A class action lawsuit entitled Chavez v. Netflix, Inc. was filed in San Francisco Superior Court (case number CGC-04-434884) on September 23, 2004. The lawsuit alleges that Netflix failed to provide “unlimited” DVD rentals and “one day delivery” as promised in its marketing materials. Netflix has denied any wrongdoing or liability. The parties have reached a settlement that they believe is in the best interests of the company and its subscribers.

The “free benefit” would be “a free one-month Netflix membership on your choice of the 1, 2 or 3 DVDs at-a-time unlimited program”. Yee haw. I’ve not been this excited since those bastards at Apple had to pay me $0.35 because they sold me a “17-inch monitor” that really only had 16.8-inches of viewable image on it. I am now served so much better as a consumer since the ads started saying “16.8-inches viewable monitor”.

On the settlement web site, buried in the full text of the settlement, is the following:

8.1 Subject to Court approval, Netflix shall pay $2,000 to the Class Representative.
8.2 Subject to Court approval, Netflix agrees to pay Class Counsel up to, and will not contest the reasonableness of, $2,528,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs.

The Class Counsel in this case is:

Adam Gutride, Esq.
835 Douglass Street
San Francisco, California 94114
Seth A. Safier, Esq.
6467 California
San Francisco, California 94121

Fortunately, buried even further into the settlement is this line:

11.1 Netflix shall have the right to terminate this Agreement and the settlement in the event that greater than 5% of the eligible Class Members opt-out of the settlement.

That makes it pretty clear what I’m going to do. Opting out is fairly easy and one Class Member has put together a form letter you can use. It’ll cost you a stamp, though. Fortunately for me, the check I got from Apple (plus interest) should cover my stamp.

Thanks to AS for providing advice and additional links and RS for the firm links.

Update: Initial post listed Netflix’s lawyers as the class counsel. D’oh! Sorry all. Corrected above.


After over a decade of being kept alive with technology — possibly against her will — Terri Schiavo is dead. I’d like to be able to say that she died with dignity but, unfortunately, the legalistic, religious and hypocritical furor surrounding her death left very little room for anything dignified.

I’ve been thinking about how to think about the events surrounding Mrs. Schiavo’s death, which provide quite a bit to ponder. Mainly, I’ve been wondering about who, of all involved, can be considered to be acting morally. One possible way of examining this is to subject the people involved into hypothetical situations and see where it takes you.

Suppose I’m a District Attorney. Based on the suggestion that Mrs. Schiavo requested not to be kept alive artificially, suppose I accuse her family of sustained and repeated torture of their daughter, taking calculated and extreme measures to artificially maintain what I (as DA) call “an unpleasant, hopeless existence” in accordance with their own wishes and opposed to hers.

Granted, this is a hypothetical situation about law, not morality, but let’s see where it takes us. As I see it, the family has only two possible legal defenses against such a charge.

The first defense would be to say that the claim that Mrs. Schiavo requested not to be kept alive artificially is false. Unfortunately for the family, regardless of whether or not you personally believe that Mrs. Schiavo truly wished to avoid being kept alive by machines, the court system believes this past all point of appeal. So, from a legal standpoint, this defense would not keep the family out of jail for torture.

The only other defense the family could mount against a torture charge is that Mrs. Schiavo is not aware enough to register pain or pleasure and, therefore, cannot be truly tortured. Whether or not this defense would keep the family out of jail isn’t that relevant to me. What matters is that, to even mount such a defense, the family would have to embrace the idea that they have been fighting against.

To me, this indicates that the family doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on. Further, it suggests their moral stance is on fairly shaky ground as well.