How much is a life worth?

2007

New Zealand power company Mercury Energy has suddenly gained itself an international reputation – as an object global outrage – after cutting off the power supply to a gravely-ill mother of four, Folole Muliaga, who was dependent on an oxygen machine.

As the media across the world has has reported, a contractor working for Mercury Energy stood in front of the 44-year-old nursery teacher after he cut the power supply and, with the alarm of her oxygen machine sounding, said that he was only doing his job.

Within ten minutes she began to suffer a severe headache and said that she could not see. She died within two hours.

And all this for an outstanding bill of just £62 ($120).

Doug Heffernan, CEO of (state owned) Mercury Energy's parent company, Mighty River Power, said that there were at least two different versions of the circumstances surrounding Mrs Muliaga's death but that "we absolutely do agree, as does I think everyone in New Zealand, that no one should ever die because the power is cut off".

I cannot even begin to imagine the culture of an organization whose staff or contractors (who are equally liable for their actions) feel obliged to go to such lengths to follow orders without questioning the consequence of their actions.

Does Mercury Energy have a workforce of drones, is it afflicted by a particularly hideous case of 'public sector culture' or could this simply have been a hideous one-off error of judgment?

"I was only doing my job" wasn't a defence that was accepted in the Nuremberg Trials and shouldn't be one that is accepted here.

Any organization with even the smallest inkling about ethics or good customer service should empower its people to make a judgment call or at least refer an issue if necessary. Sometimes having an ounce of common sense (or just common decency), really can be a matter of life or death.

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Older Comments

Perhaps her family should've paid the bill when it was due, months before the power cut-off actually happened. Surely they realised the implications of what could occur? After all, as is stated in the above article, the power bill was only $120. Did her family not cherish her life enough to pay her bill?

Perhaps the hospital should have made sure the back-up generator actually worked. Here is just another incident of poor western medicine care helping to create another death in the community. (As an aside, how many people are aware that the leading cause of death in the USA is Wrong Treatment/Prescription by a doctor?)

Perhaps people should find out as much information about what happened as possible before criticising.

I agree that the company should not have disconnected the power. My point is that there are many people who are to blame for this tragedy and it is a shame that those that criticise do so without finding out more about the background to the situation.

Ralph Wiggum New Zealand