Heart Patent

by T. Gene Davis

“Owen! You’ve got snail mail!”

“What’s that?” Owen asked, taking the envelope from his father.

“Don’t they teach you kids anything at college?”

Owen opened the envelope, and read the single sheet of paper. His father whistled from over his shoulder. “That looks official. Is it a scam?”

You are hereby ordered by the court to appear in civil hearing of copyright infringement, patent infringement, smuggling, and bootlegging of a human organ.

“I think it’s for real.” Owen re-read the letter, mumbling ever word.

Matt Powell flopped onto the couch, and gave his son the same look he’d given him many times as a teenager—the what-have-you-done-this-time look.

“My heart? They’re accusing me of illegally getting a heart transplant? What are they going to do? Rip it from my chest still beating?” Reading further, that was exactly their intention. Owen flopped down next to his father on the couch with a look usually reserved for the reflection in the toilet after a night of drinking.

“I told you not to go out of network for the surgery.”

“Saying ‘I told you so’ is not helping my stomach at the moment.”

“Guess I’d better text your mother about this one.”

“Ugh.”

It took less time for the phone to ring than it did for Owen’s father to thumb in the text. Owen picked up the house phone.

“Yes mother.”

He paused looking at his father, mouthing something that looked like “thanks a lot.”

“I did not.”

Another pause.

“That would be a felon. I’m not a felon.”

Owen blew air out through his nearly closed lips.

“It’s a civil suit, Mother. They don’t give you an attorney in civil suits … I’ll have to pay for a legal heart and some sort of fine.”

He hmm’ed and yeah’ed a few times.

“Death by lawsuit … Why are you giving me a guilt trip? I’m the one they want to kill.”

He okay’ed a few times and pressed “end call”.

“Thanks Dad.”

“And you still wonder why we’re divorced?”

Owen tossed his father the phone and went to his room. He didn’t come out for dinner, or leave for classes the next morning. His schedule returned to normal until his court date.

“Why are you not wearing a tie?” The judge asked Owen.

“I don’t own a tie,” Owen responded. “Sorry. I should have borrowed one. The threat of my death had me distracted.”

“Do you have a lawyer present?”

“I couldn’t afford a lawyer. After the ‘Independent Payment Advisory Board’ denied my heart surgery, my family and I maxed our credit cards and mortgaged or sold everything of value we owned for my new heart.”

“Save it for the judge,” the judge chuckled at his own joke.

Soon, Iraa Medical Cloning, Inc.’s lawyer had a turn at questioning Owen. Owen kept his gaze on his father through the whole procedings. His father never looked up, but his face and slightly balding head were bright red with rage.

“Are you Owen Henry Powell?” The lawyer began.

“Yes.”

“Were you recently diagnosed with irreparable heart damage?”

“Yes.”

“Did you fill out a waiver for a free genetic exam as part of your visit?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is this your signature?”

“Yes.”

“Did you recently receive a heart transplant?”

“Yes.”

“Did you receive that heart from Iraa Medical Cloning, Inc?”

“Uh, …. Why?”

“Yes or no, please.”

“I received my heart in Asia. The operation was all I and my family could afford. I would have died.”

“Yes or no, please.”

“It cost ten times as much in the U.S. I would have died.”

“Yes or no, please.”

“No.”

“Are you aware that by agreeing to the free genetic exam, Iraa Medical Cloning, Inc. received all legal title to patent and copyrights of your genetic code and requires that to reimburse them for the extremely expensive procedure that you took advantage of, you are required to obtain all cloned body replacement parts through them?”

“No.”

“You are now. Did you get a cloned organ from a genetic pirating facility in the far east?”

“They are a reputable hospital.”

“Yes or no, please.”

“No.”

“These records show that indeed you did visit a known genetic bootlegging facility in Asia, and there received a bootleg heart at or near Christmas. A day or two after the theft of said genetic material, you proceeded to smuggle the pirated genetic material into the United States of America inside your person, lying on customs forms and costing Iraa Medical Cloning, Inc. millions in losses and damages.”

“That’s not true!”

“Of course it is. Here are the medical records showing that you had the heart transplant.”

Quicker than Owen’s stomach could flip-flop, the court ruled against him. He was ordered to turn over his bootleg merchandise to Iraa Medical Cloning, Inc. at a local hospital the next day, pay a huge fine (more than the original operation cost) and pay for removal and disposal of said merchandise. A replacement organ if any, must be paid for in cash (along with the fine) before the procedure the following morning.

Owen’s father came over as the court officer fitted him with a tracking ankle bracelet.

“If you’re planning another I told-you-so, don’t. I’m having a bad day.”

“At least they gave you twelve hours to say you’re good-byes.”

“Our state supposedly has no death penalty.”

“Thank the IPAB.”

“Yeah.”

At home, Owen returned to his room, refusing attempts by his father to get him out to eat. Owen spent the night wishing he were a nice serial killer and not an evil broke college student with a bad heart. Then he’d get a lawyer, a life sentence and three meals a day, not an empty stomach and a death sentence.

The next day found Owen’s father dropping him off at the curb of the hospital.

“You’re not coming in?”

“I can’t. I might accidentally / on purpose kill your surgeon.”

In the waiting room, Owen sat holding a number. He rubbed his ankle bracelet with his other foot.

“I see you’re in the same boat as me.”

Owen looked up, meeting the most beautiful eyes he’d ever seen. The looked like white caps on the deepest blue ocean he ever imagined. The eyes were attached to an older, dowdy, misshapen woman sitting across from him. She lifted her leg exposing a bracelet identical to his.

“They’re taking out my eyes. You?”

“My heart.”

“I see,” she paused and continued, “but I won’t soon.” She grinned at the attempted joke.

“Too soon.” He attempted a grin back. “Those are beautiful eyes. Where did you get them?”

A male nurse announced, “Emma Butler? Number 403?”

“You’re a darling.” She winked. “Good to meet you. I’ll miss you.”

She stood and followed the nurse out of the room.

“I’ll see you,” he said, realizing instantly that he wouldn’t, … and she wouldn’t.

He waited for Emma to come out. They came for him while wheeling someone else out on a stretcher. The body was dowdy and female. A sheet was over her head.

He wondered if that was Emma. Would they have killed her just to get to her eyes? Owen shivered.

The doctor said, “Lay on the table and relax. The procedure only takes a few minutes.”

The doctor shuffled through papers from an envelope. “Removal of pirated organ. No replacement?” The doctor gave him a serious look over the top of his glasses. “And no payment for sedatives.”

“You’re not going to give me any drugs?”

“The attendants are going to secure you to the table, so you don’t harm yourself during the procedure.”

“I’m going to be awake for the whole thing?”

“Local anesthesia only.”

Two large male nurses strapped down Owen’s legs, arms, torso and head.

“Do you have any conscience?” Owen asked.

“Look. This is just a medical procedure. Try to relax.”

The male nurse cut away his shirt and drew a line over Owen’s chest with a marker.

Owen thought he would die instantly when they cut out his heart, but he remain agonizingly awake long enough to see them drop it in a plastic biohazard bag.

As Owen finally lost consciousness, he heard the doctor say, “Get that thing out of here. I hate these cheap foreign knock offs. They disgust me.”

Notes …

This is sort of a dystopian fiction. It’s easy to say that this could never happen, even though all its elements already are happening in modern society. Corporations target college students in lawsuits they know they can’t afford to make examples of their piracy and copyright infringement. The legal systems of the world are still deciding if private genetic codes can be patented and/or copyrighted. And, 3D printers are beginning to create organs for transplant surgeries.

I brought all the elements together in a way that hasn’t happened, yet. But knowing how indifferent governments and bureaucracies get, why not? We’ve seen far worse from governments around the world.

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