May 30, 2013

400-Word Scenario #11: The Gray Revolution

Patrick Marren
Partner

The wave of retirees has barely begun to break over us; what might the world look like when the tsunami recedes? In 400 words exactly, a scenario of a gray future...

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 31, 2033:

The Supreme Court's spring decision in the case of Gray v. United States has only begun to affect the myriad contracts and DNR orders and other medical and retirement policies that it overturned in its landmark 8-1 vote.

Debate has raged over the decision, which overturned a Do Not Resuscitate order that was part of a Living Will signed and executed by Leonard C. Gray, an Alabama car dealer. Relatives of Gray, who suffers from Alzheimer's, had fought over whether Gray's feeding tube should be removed. The case made for some seriously strange bedfellows, with some libertarians arguing for the sanctity of contracts, and others insisting that the original party to the contract no longer existed, and that therefore the preferences of the current human being as he was were the only criteria that should be considered.

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the 78 year-old John Roberts, wrote the majority opinion, which enraged many but caused celebration in other quarters.

"Without the mechanism of enforceable contracts, that legal system, economy and society would undoubtedly collapse. But these contracts must presume that those who enter into them continue to exist as the same person. Experts may differ as to the definition of a human individual, but there seems to be a strong scientific consensus that the critical component of any personality is memory. Once memory is extinguished, the continuity of the personality must be said to be broken. Historically the continuity of the personality was severed by death, and there was no ambiguity about when that severing took place in an epoch in which few adults lived beyond middle age. However, the present era is the first in which the bodies of large numbers of people are outliving their minds. ...In the current case, the Court finds that the plaintiff cannot be held to a contract that was entered into by a completely different human individual; and that the fiduciary duty of his physicians and other caregivers is to the current personality, not to the now extinguished personality that originally signed the Living Will."

"Our cells change every day," complained one critic. "This opens up the possibility that lawyer-psychologists will be telling us that Joe Smith only has to pay 72% of his rent. And kids will get out of homework by claiming that they are not the same student. Where does it end?"

Thoughts?