Friday, August 30, 2013

Can someone be sued as a "nuisance" for attracting destructive hecklers? VA women's clinic case could actually matter on the Web

This blog is not the normal place for comments on the “right to life” debate as it is usually conducted, but I wanted to note the closing of the NOVA Women’s Healthcare clinic in Fairfax City, VA.  The history of the clinic includes a lawsuit against it by its own landlord, Eaton Place (Virginia, not in Toronto!), in part because it attracted daily protesters whom the landlord says bothered other tenants in the building.  The Washington Post staff had written a detailed report on July 14, 2013 here  and has an editorial sympathetic to the clinic in the paper today (Friday August 30, 2013).
Ken Shepherd has a “News Buster” account of the matter, including stories of vomiting patients, hereA major point of controversy was that both local regulations and state law imposed regulations on the facility appropriate for full surgical facilities, but not enforced against private clinics that offer less “controversial” (read, “morally objectionable”) services.   I might have run into “regulations” with my own recent dental implant surgery, but fortunately the monitoring during my sedation was simple and not intrusive.  
It’s very disturbing that someone could be liable for the traffic he or she (or “it”) attracts.  Imagine suing a gay tenant in an apartment because a past visitor returned illegally and damaged the premises or robbed.  (We used to think about this possibility back in the 1970s in NYC.  On at least two occasions previous “tricks” returned and rerang the intercom, partly because of economic need.  One person stole cash from a wallet but did not harm anything.)
The idea also applies to the Internet, potentially.  A particular client in a shared hosting environment could, because of public controversy, attract hackers or denial of service attacks, and other clients on that server might want the controversial website owner held responsible, or at least shut down as a "nuisance". This is a dangerous variation of the theme of downstream liability.  In any case, state laws could vary a lot on this matter.  But apparently such liability is possible in Virginia.

As for the debate on abortion, I’ve always felt that it is a psychological surrogate for something deeper, the idea of giving every “living soul” (as my father called it) a chance.  Some people confuse the issue with contraception, imagining that the latter practice denies a pre-established “soul”  a chance to lie.  (Physics doesn’t support that idea.  In fact, it takes some time after conception, even after birth, for a “soul” capable of “free will” to develop;  see  Books blog, June 1, “I Am a Strange Loop” by Douglas Hofstadter).  Some bring into the debate the matter of euthanasia, and make pious claims about serving the needs of the severely disabled (as in the Terri Schiavo case in Florida, where the family was eager to personally care for her but feared that many other families would not have been).

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