An Auckland woman has died after her electricity company - Mercury Energy, for the curious - cut off power to her Oxygen machine. While Libertarians and other propertarian absolutists will shrug their shoulders and say "she should have paid her bill", I think the vast majority of us would agree that there are moral limits to the market, and that capitalism does not extend to the heartless killing of the ill simply because they can't afford to pay their bills. Poverty and illness should not be a death sentence - or, in this case, an invitation to murder.
I use that word, and I mean it. Mercury Energy has, through its subcontractor, murdered one of its customers. Section 157 of the Crimes Act creates a duty to avoid dangerous omissions to life. Section 164 makes it clear that accelerating the death of someone already ill is killing them. And section 160 (2) (b) makes it a culpable homicide. As for murder vs manslaughter, the person disconnecting the power was told that the victim relied on it for life support, and they did it anyway. That makes it intentional - murder (in the US they would call it "depraved indifference").
Unfortunately, that only gets the subcontractor, and Mercury will likely be able to use them as a way to avoid blame (that is after all one of the reasons to contract services out - to diffuse responsibility for failure, to give you people to point fingers at. Just look at the government and DHBs). But we should be asking some very pointy questions of Mercury as well. For example, whether they knew the power was used for life support (they ask when you get connected, but obviously may not have been told if it was due to a change in circumstances). Or whether they set a clear policy for their subcontractors of not disconnecting the power when someone says they need it for health reasons. Or whether they set perverse incentives, such as paying only for disconnections. They may not be able to be prosecuted, but depending on their answers they may share a large amount of culpability. And they should be held responsible for it.