UPDATED: Drug Pusher & Purchaser Innocent In Libertarian Law (On Selecting for Low Character)

Celebrity,Free Will Vs. Determinism,Individual Rights,Justice,Law,libertarianism,Liberty,Psychiatry,Psychology & Pop-Psychology,War on Drugs


The trial of Dr. Conrad Murray, “the doctor charged in Michael Jackson’s death,” drags on. “Authorities contend Murray gave Jackson a fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol in the singer’s bedroom on June 25, 2009. Defense attorneys claim the singer gave himself the fatal dose.” (WAPo)

Murray agreed to become Jackson’s personal physician for $150,000 a month but was never paid because the singer died before the contract was signed.

Jackson, whom I defended when ‘Mad Dog’ [Thomas] Sneddon picked up the star’s scent and gave chase, was a deeply disturbed, body dysmorphic, drug-addicted man. But he was an adult, not a child. His decisions were his to make. He hired Murray to feed narcotics directly into his bloodstream.

If not for the medicine of this admittedly shoddy practitioner, Jackson would have ended-up dead, in a back alley with a needle in his stick arm, a long time ago.

In the libertarian law, Dr. Conrad Murray is innocent (if odious).

A drug purchaser and a drug pusher have agreed on an exchange. If it is voluntary and consensual, then both parties expect to benefit ex ante. A voluntary exchange is, by definition, always mutually beneficial inasmuch as, at the time of the exchange, the buyer valued the purchase more than the money he paid for it, and the seller valued the money more than the goods he sold.

There will always be meddling third parties seeking to circumscribe and circumvent a voluntary activity not to their liking. Some feminists want to stop lovers of pornography from making or consuming it. Other busybodies would like to stop adults from gambling. These third parties have no place in a transaction between consenting adults, unless these transactions infringe directly—not foreseeably—on their property or person.

Any transaction that was at the time of occurrence voluntary, and hence beneficial to the participants, can, retrospectively, be denounced as harmful and regrettable.

The legislator has no place in a voluntary exchange between adults, as dodgy and as dangerous as they may be (like dwarf tossing). Murray might be an unsavory character. He would not be my choice for a medic, but he does not belong in jail.

UPDATED (Oct. 27): ON SELECTING FOR LOW CHARACTER. Some interesting comments have been made below, under Comments. First, not to be schoolmarmish, but addiction is not a disease. Please click “Drug War,” on my Articles Archive, and read some of these titles. The category of “Psychiatry and The Therapeutic State” is also relevant to grasping that the disease model of misbehavior has no place in a free society:

Charlie Sheen’s Out of the AA ‘Troll Hole’
Addicted To The Drug War
Tokers Are Terrorists Now
Medical Mumbo Jumbo Does Not Explain Addiction
Addictions Are About Behavior, Not Disease

As to the good points raised in Comments. We live in the real world which is encumbered by positive law. Analysis must avoid, in as much as possible, levitating between what “is” and what “ought to be” (although all libertarian analysis, given its deference to natural law, will so err).

The type of “service” Jackson required from this Murray man was one that few competent, above-board practitioners would agree to perform. I’ve used a similar argument to make the case that our immigration law selects for low character: yes, left-libertarians like to believe that the best and bravest of humanity will cross our borders illegally. As an immigrant who knows a bit about the US visa system, I assure you that this is seldom the case. (Read more.)

It appears that poor Jackson did not have the fiduciary and intellectual wherewithal to sign a contract specifying Murray’s responsibilities. But even had Jackson done that prudent thing, Murray would have likely flouted his obligations, irrespective of the Hippocratic oath he took. See comment above. Risk is implicit in buying a dodgy service such as anesthetizing yourself to sleep every night. However much I paid my doctor, I know she would refuse. She’s a go-by-the-book woman.

What is true is that if all drug dealing were licit, Jackson would have had access to a better practitioner. However, private medical associations would have probably not licensed Murray and would refuse to give their medical imprimatur to individuals who were prepared to anesthetized a man to sleep each and every night (give him his “milk,” as the warped Jackson called this deadly, almost necrophilic practice).

Either way, your best and brightest medics would not be willing to cease practicing in their area of specialty, and contend themselves, as professionals, with the nightly routine of hooking up a celebrity’s IV.

Here’s another clue Jackson ought to have used in assessing the risks of hiring Murray: the man is a cardiologist, for heaven’s sake, not an anesthesiologist. The latter is a specialty in itself.

6 thoughts on “UPDATED: Drug Pusher & Purchaser Innocent In Libertarian Law (On Selecting for Low Character)

  1. Jim

    While I agree with your stance, there is the troubling Hippocratic Oath, which at least appears to preclude doctors from the drug pushing profession.

    On the other hand, your point is well taken that Mr. Jackson did not need the doctor to administer the fatal dose. His night table was literally covered in drug containers of all types. Can any doctor understand the long term effects of such combinations?

    When folks hire their own physicians, it is not generally so they can live better, but die more comfortably.

  2. Tom

    I think Murray may properly be civilly liable if he performed his duty negligently, even in a libertarian scheme, because Jackson did not voluntarily enter into a contract to receive negligent medical care (he could’ve hired someone off the street, rather than a licensed doctor, for that, though the boundaries of the hypothetical break down given that the doctor and his dispensing privileges, which wouldn’t be at issue in a libertarian society, were a necessary conduit to receive what Jackson sought). At least I might argue as such.

    It may not be directly at issue so much in this case, but the issue of mind-altering or addictive drugs does nevertheless raise a dilemma in my mind for the libertarian on the basis that their effects compromise reason and voluntary choice. The assumption that a free adult is given the opportunity to freely choose to act in the marketplace in their own best interest is a threshold requirement of honoring their choices and a necessary precondition to expecting that the libertarian society will realize maximal benefit and utility. We couldn’t make the same assumption if compulsion or force were employed on them to make their decisions. At least at the individual transactional level, though, could it not be said that the addict, once so addicted, is compelled or forced to buy drugs? Their minds are twisted and their bodies will inflict pain on them if they do not partake. I think that the proper response would probably be to institutionalize such people, at least until the worst phase of their addiction has recovered and their reason and ability to make rational decisions about drug use has returned. Presumably, a libertarian society wouldn’t let minor children or the insane wander the street either to fall victim to their limited capacities to reason and care for themselves. I still raise the issue just to point out the free choice dilemma that drugs would still raise.

  3. Eric Zucker

    I think it likely that Jackson offered Murray $150,000.00 per month for at least two things. Because of state licensing laws Murray could procure the drug that Jackson wanted but couldn’t get on his own. We agree that the state has no business here.

    The second thing that I think Jackson had reason to expect was some competence in the safe administration of the dangerous drug in question. Otherwise why have Murray spend the night. If Murray misrepresented his competence (the prosecutor has offered some evidence to support this) and administered all the doses then Jackson was the victim of fraud resulting in negligent homicide–a proper interest of the state.

    If however, we conclude that Jackson self administered the final dose then the state has no legitimate interest here.

    Unfortunately no contract was signed to give us more information as to both party’s expectations and responsibilities. It is also unfortunate that the others in the house did not see who administered the fatal final dose.

    Murray is certainly an “unsavory character” but that is not evidence that the state should be granted permission to initiate force against him. But evidence beyond a reasonable doubt of negligent homicide is.

    I haven’t followed this case of the pathetic drug addict man-child and his doctor closely enough to know who’s at fault.

  4. Myron Pauli

    I have always be skeptical on the issue of medical licensing …. and, even if one has licensing, there is no reason that “Dr” Murray has to be granted one (given his substandard care). Civil liability for malpractice is a completely different issue than criminal charges. This sounds like a hotdogging District Attorney.

  5. Eric Zucker

    While Jackson appears to have acted irresponsibly that doesn’t relieve Murray of his responsibilities. Jackson was like the provocatively dressed woman who walks alone at night in a bad neighborhood and gets raped. We rightly ask her, “What the devil were you thinking?” But, we still try to bring the rapist to justice. Similarly after wondering what Jackson was thinking we try to punish Murray if evidence supports a conclusion of fraud and/or negligence.

    I have some sympathy for Jackson’s insomnia since I had that symptom along with several others that for years no doctor could diagnose. I suspected a thyroid/adrenal problem and was told by seven different endocrinologists that I was wrong. Eventually, on my own, I researched, experimented, and treated the problem as a thyroid/adrenal problem and resolved the insomnia and other symptoms safely. It has been my experience that American doctors like Keynesian economists very often don’t know what they are talking about.

    Jackson’s insomnia may have had a real physical cause that he was trying to address by self medicating with Murray’s help after other doctors failed to help him. Unfortunately it cost him his life.

  6. Eric Zucker

    Incidentally, many people with symptoms of depression have insomnia. There is research that points to thyroid and adrenal diseases as the undiagnosed underlying causes of much depression and hence insomnia. The way that doctors are taught to use thyroid tests is inadequate to properly diagnose 80% of low thyroid disease. If anyone is interested in this topic they can begin their research here, http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/5629210/depression_treatment_t3_works_better.html. Here, http://www.stopthethyroidmadness.com/thyroid-depression-mental-health/. And here, http://thyroid.about.com/od/thyroiddrugstreatments/l/blderryb.htm. Jackson’s insomnia may have been the result of an undiagnosed thyroid/adrenal problem and not a mental problem.

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