The Audrey Mestre Tragedy : Who Owes What to Whom ?

The details of Audrey Mestre’s last dive are still in quarantine, but a striking feature of the increasingly shrill demands for investigation and disclosure is the embedded axiom that the IAFD, Pipin Ferreras and/or the Mestre family are obligated , obligated to, variously, the freediving community, the press and the public at large. They owe us a full account of what happened, it is said, they owe us ! Those who are unsatisfied with the disclosures made to date attribute this perceived reticence to base motives, in language one usually associates with political scandals.

It is quite remarkable.

What, in fact do Pipin Ferreras, the Mestre family and/or the IAFD owe anyone in terms of disclosure of information related to the circumstances and manner of Audrey Mestre’s fatal accident? A dispassionate review in the context of mainstream, conventional morality, ethics and law suggests that the answer is not much. The data retained by the IAFD, Pipin and the Mestre’s is, as best as I can determine, private property. Until such time as there is a regime change in the United States of America, its owners enjoy all of the protections afforded private property, which are many and strong.

The notion that there is, nevertheless some sort of overriding obligation to relinquish control over this private property is widespread and unquestioned. Is there, after all, some substance to this idea?

The strongest arguments for such an obligation are those built on moral, on ethical and on legal grounds, respectively. The weakest is based on a bizarre concept of celebritie oblige.

The moral case for full investigation and disclosure, which is asserted by most of the critics, cites the potential yield of enhanced safety for future no-limits divers. This argument is, however, valid only to the extent that the data inform us of new knowledge, something we did not previously know about the physiology or physics of deep sled diving. If previously unknown, something new was encountered in the heretofore unexplored depths and caused this dive to fail, then some moral obligation to the freediving community may be said to exist.

The insiders would, in that case, have knowledge which if disclosed could make it unneccesary for other people to acquire it at the cost of human life. It is not, however, a very compelling obligation. The business of no-limits world records is, after all, a business. New knowledge acquired by the IAFD in this tragic manner is, arguably, a proprietary business asset, one which may give the IAFD a competitive advantage in setting world records going forward. This asset, if it exists, was acquired at a cost which cannot even be measured, and has commercial value in the future. The act of disclosure itself, regardless of the content, would be very painful to those close to Audrey. The moral case for altruistic, free distribution of this asset is therefore very weak.

Drug companies, for example, are not (yet) required to freely disseminate the findings of their very costly research and development.

Those critics who point to mistakes, negligence, or poor preparation have no moral case for disclosure at all. Revelations of this type afford no potential benefit whatsoever to future no-limits divers, no greater benefit which would overwhelm private property rights. We all know already that if we screw up, people can die. The only benefit would accrue to those interested in boosting ratings, selling more newspapers or exacting revenge.

The ethical argument goes like this: IAFD has presented itself to the world as an organization that follows and enforces a set of regulations and standards for records and instruction. If failure to adhere to these regulations and standards was the probable cause of this horror, then IAFD should be held accountable.

Perhaps so. However, it does not follow from this that the IAFD is obliged to investigate or to disclose. The IAFD, in choosing not to investigate and disclose, chooses to position itself in the free marketplace as an organization which has not self-certified itself in a way that critics find satisfactory. It may be said, in that case, to have failed to vindicate itself, which, while not the same as being proven culpable, is nevertheless something for which the market is free to hold IAFD to account. If sponsors, spectators, students and athletes don’t like the IAFD’s conduct, they can punish IAFD with their wallets and their non-participation.

The legal case for disclosure, asserting that the outcome of the dive was a consequence of malfeasance, is one which should be made before the proper law-enforcement bodies in the proper jurisdictions. Internet forums, websites, newspaper articles and the like are not the vehicles through which allegations of malfeasance are properly sounded. Those critics who, in public media, have raised the spectre of criminal conduct may well be serving their parochial interests quite effectively, but criminal accountability and enforcement of law are not among these interests. If somebody thinks there was foul play, and wants justice done, he should make his case to law enforcement.

Put up or shut up.

Law enforcement, acting through the courts, can coerce the disclosure of damned near anything.

The weakest case of all is based on the notion that persons of celebrity have an obligation to satisfy, without bounds, the public curiosity, however morbid it may be. This is, of course, nonsense. While jurisprudence in the Anglosphere and in other parts of the world has recognized that public figures do differ from the ordinary run of men, the differences are generally with respect to the distinctive consequences of public utterances ( e.g., in definitions of libel) after the fact, rather than to a priori requirements for disclosure. Public figures have to grin and bear it when people print all sorts of things about them, but are not obligated themselves to volunteer the dirty details.

Where from, then, this au currant notion that we are owed an explanation? That we are owed free access to data records? We most definitely want these things, we desire them, but it seems that some of us no longer distinguish between our wishes on the one hand, and the obligations, if any , of others to fulfull them. Just because you want something real, real bad does not mean that anybody owes it to you.

It may be that the IAFD, Pipin and the Mestres should initiate more disclosure. It could be that this would, in the end, be best for them. There are many, many reasons why this may be so. If asked, I might well advise them to release more information when they feel up to it. However, I accept that this may not happen. It may well be that like it or not, it is simply none of my business.

Or yours.

Paul Kotik has been a Staff Writer and Freediving Editor for DeeperBlue.com. He lives in Florida, USA with his family.

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