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November|December 2004
Who Needs Keys? By Nicholas Thompson
Happy 789th, Magna Carta By Daniel Brook
Onward, Christian Lawyers By Geoffrey Gagnon
Quick on the Trigger By Wendy Davis
Won't You Be My Neighbor? By Samantha M. Shapiro
Cases & Controversies

Cases & Controversies


Caring for Crunchy

WHEN CANADIAN COUPLE BARBARA BOSCHEE AND KENNETH DUNCAN ended their six-year marriage, Duncan left Boschee with his dog. Crunchy, a four-year-old Saint Bernard, who weighs 130 pounds, scarfs down a large bag of dog food every three weeks, and he frequently relieves himself on Boschee's rugs. As part of the terms of the divorce, Boschee, whose annual income was $20,000, demanded that Duncan, a truck driver with an annual salary of $65,000, help support Crunchy's living expenses—including all the carpet cleanings. In the first-ever decision of its kind, a Canadian judge agreed that Boschee was entitled to support payments for the dog, and ordered her ex-husband to pay her $200 a month to care for Crunchy, plus more than $1,000 in back payments. That's about a third of what Duncan would have been required to pay if Crunchy were a child.

In the United States, several courts have recognized pets as property worth more than their purchase price. Some judges have accounted for the emotional loss of a pet in wrongful death and veterinary malpractice suits. Others have arbitrated custody disputes over pets. A San Diego court, for example, granted both members of an estranged couple visitation rights to spend time with their dog Gigi. But Boschee's feat is one that no American plaintiff has matched. Dogs are not chattel, courts in the United States have said, but judges have yet to grant them the rights of children.

Abort Mission

ABOARD THE SHIP BORNDIEP, REGISTERED IN THE NETHERLANDS AS A COMMERCIAL VESSEL, is a mobile abortion unit. The portable clinic, owned by the organization Women on Waves, is designed to provide contraceptives and abortions to women in countries where access is limited by law. The mobile clinic transports its patients into international waters, defined as 12 miles from the coast of a country, and provides its services where national laws don't apply. Having completed two voyages to Poland and Ireland in the past five years, Women on Waves set sail last August for Portugal.

Portugal forbids abortions except in cases of rape or where childbirth poses a serious health risk to the mother. The Borndiep was supposed to dock at the harbor of Figuera da Foz, pick up clients, and transport them beyond the reach of local law. But Portuguese officials refused to allow the ship into the harbor, arguing that the ship's intent was to provoke lawlessness and undermine public health.

The state secretary for maritime affairs stationed naval ships at the 12-mile borderline to ensure that the vessel didn't enter his country's waters. Women on Waves charged Portugal with violating international conventions by denying them entrance, stating: "Women on Waves has never and will never incite illegal acts in Portugal or in any other country." After hovering for two weeks outside the harbor, however, the ship went back home.

(Bacterial) Culture

STEVEN KURTZ, AN EXPERIMENTAL ARTIST IN BUFFALO, N.Y., DIALED 911 LAST MAY when his 45-year-old wife stopped breathing. Police and paramedics who arrived at the scene noticed petri dishes and a machine used to extract DNA from plant cells. Kurtz is a member of the Critical Art Ensemble, an artists' collective, and he uses biological agents in his artwork. But the FBI was worried that something more sinister was going on. They questioned Kurtz while agents from the federal government's Joint Terrorism Task Force descended on his home and confiscated his artwork.

Kurtz's wife was found to have died from natural causes, but his troubles weren't over. He was indicted under federal mail and wire fraud laws for allegedly ordering bacterial cultures through the mail. Other members of the artists' collective, which promotes radical politics through art, were subpoenaed under the federal Biological Weapons Statute. Expanded by the USA Patriot Act, the law prohibits acquisition of biological materials for anything other than research or "peaceful purposes."

Kurtz's supporters insist that his work is dangerous only in the symbolic sense. His projects include an exhibit called "Molecular Invasion," which features genetically modified plants killed with a deadly compound, and which is supposed to dramatize their vulnerability to herbicide, and "Free Range Grain," a mobile lab that allows the public to examine food sold as "organic" for signs of genetic modification. That installation was to have been shown at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, but it was seized by the FBI. The curator came up with a last-minute replacement, however: a blank wall with press clippings of Kurtz's arrest.

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