Wednesday, October 03, 2007

I've Got Another...

This has got to be the coolest story in the news today. it goes something like this:

A man falls behind in his payments on a lot in a storage facility, so the facility hucks it off to the highest bidder. Common practice. The winner's delight at finding a nice gas grill is somewhat dampened by the fact that he opens it to find a severed human leg inside. But our hero is one of those who can take lemons and make lemonade: after the police certify it legally removed (it was amputated for medical reasons, not the leftovers of any kind of Hannibal Lecter banquet), it ends up at a funeral home. Never mind, the owner of the grill manages to make a profit anyway just by charging people $3 to see the grill that once contained the leg (that lived in the house that Jack built).

Now he's in a lawsuit to get full possession of the leg, which he claims he purchased legally (it was, after all, on the storage lot whose contents he bought at auction), so that he can up the price for Halloween. This is based on the entirely reasonable assumption that people will pay more to see the actual leg than just the grill it once inhabited.

My question: if you have your leg amputated and decide you want to keep it for sentimental reasons, do you really leave it lying in a smoker in a storage facility? This is the kind of thing that's attic clutter, then, is it? And that you just forget about when you get the notice that you're behind on your payments and in danger of losing your storage lot? Can't be bothered to haul off at least the leg before they sell off your goodies?

But bizarre situations like this often make for interesting caselaw. Organlegging isn't just a crime in Known Space, and I know that there are laws on the books here and there preventing people from selling their kidneys and the like on the fear that immigrants and the poor will be exploited. If the courts rule that Mr. Whisnant bought Mr. Wood's leg when he bought the storage lot, the legal basis for such laws (leftists would no doubt call them "protections") will be seriously undermined.

Without really getting into it here - let me just say that I think that would be a good thing. Property rights are under assault these days (forgive me for citing the obligatory example, but I really do believe that Kelo v. City of New London 545 US 469 is the worst Court decision in decades). If we're to begin rebuilding their foundation, I see no reason not to start with the body. If we don't own our own bodies, how can we possibly own land, goods, etc.?

Well, people will say, that sounds all very nice, but what about poor people who have no other options but to sell their kidneys, etc.? Don't we want to prevent such things?

I suppose we do, yes. But this kind of thinking is dangerous all the same because it misunderstands what ownership is. Ownership means it's yours. It doesn't mean it's yours only if you do advisable things with it. The only justification for government intervention with someone's property is if he uses it in a way that violates someone else's rights. Selling something that belongs to you doesn't violate anyone's rights. Maybe it's a stupid thing to do to sell your kidney, but there is (thank God) no law against stupidity.

So, I say the leg belongs to Mr. Whisnant who purchased it legally when he bought the storage lot. If he can find people willing to give him $5 to see it, good for him (bad for them). As for Mr. Wood - if you're dumb enough to leave your leg (your LEG!!!) lying on a grill in a storage lot long enough to fall behind on your payments, well...


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