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Friday, September 30, 2011


A "Thrilling" Analysis of Conrad Murray's Trial

Dr. Conrad Murray, charged with involuntary manslaughter and gross negligence, is on trial for the death of famed pop star Michael Jackson (basic information available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-15058723). Dr. Murray, who was Jackson’s personal attending physician at the time of his death, is implicated in having given Jackson an overdose of a sedative, similar to that used during surgeries, to help the singer sleep. This took place during the stressful rehearsal for his widely anticipated return to the stage in “This is It,” a tour that would cross Western Europe and North America. In a world where mere implications are enough to put a man under the banner of “guilty”, what would this doctor’s fellow Murray (Murray Rothbard) have to say about the whole ordeal? Would he believe that what Dr. Murray did can be constituted as a form of murder? Perhaps in not so few words, I believe Rothbard might say what we would recognize as “bogus!” In Rothbard’s Zion of pure liberty, there is no legally technical combination such as involuntary manslaughter; there is only that which is voluntary, that which is involuntary (which will produce no action), and murder.

The question of Dr. Murray’s innocence (or otherwise) can be asked by considering the notion of contracts. There are two kinds of contracts; enforceable contracts, and non-enforceable contracts. A contract is enforceable (protected through the use of violence, or the threat thereof in the violation of that contract) if it represents a transfer of property from one person to another. An example would be the contract between the debtor, who agrees to lend capital for an agreed-upon amount of time, and the borrower, who agrees to repay that money and an interest payment by an agreed-upon date. In short, an enforceable contract is nothing more than a mutually-decided statement of voluntary exchange. A contract that is not enforceable, therefore, is one that is merely promissory, and does not state a transfer of ownership rights. A contract made by one person who agrees to spend the duration of his or her life in the servitude of another cannot be enforceable, for a man cannot willingly (or even absolutely) transfer the ownership of his or her choices.

The exchange between Dr. Murray by Jackson could only have been arranged as a contract of employment, whereby Dr. Murray agreed to sell his services as a physician to Jackson in exchange for a reasonable payment, a wage (the reasonable wage, in this case, equaling $150,000 per month). The legitimacy of Dr. Murray’s prosecution depends upon whether this contract was enforceable, depending furthermore upon the terms of that contract. Jackson may have agreed to the terms of: “I will pay you $150,000 per month to keep me alive.” Such a contract would clearly be unenforceable, as it is based on a promise that not even the most reputable physician could keep. However, had the contract been arranged under the premise of: “I will pay you $150,000 per month to treat me as necessary,” then the entirety of the law could be used to enforce it. If, at any point during the agreement, Murray had failed to provide treatment, Jackson could righteously withhold future payments (or seek legal action to compensate for payments already made), as could Murray refuse service to Jackson for late or absent payments. Not once during Murray’s prosecution, nor existent in the multitude of charges being levied against him, has the question of his continued provision of medical treatment to Jackson been brought up. Not one attorney, nor judge, nor witness denies that Dr. Murray was at the constant attention of Jackson at the time of the latter’s death. Furthermore, none of the parties involved could accuse Murray of intentionally attempting to murder Jackson (such an accusation would be ridiculous: all other things equal, why would Murray attempt, by way of murder, to end the contract he voluntarily agreed upon, thereby consequently terminating his source of income?). So, in what sense was he in violation of their contract, against which legal action may be used?

Some may object that Murray should have known better: the combination of treatment was obviously unhealthy and not good for Jackson, and therefore he, in a sense, violated his agreement to treat the singer properly. I partially agree; if, in fact, any treatment concocted by Murray was a sub-optimal course of treatment that, even in part, contributed to Jackson’s death, then the poor quality of his physician-ship cannot be doubted, and his reputation must be rendered necessarily questionable. However, the question of choice cannot be brought up in the legal enforcement of contracts. Jackson willingly hired Murray to provide services, and in no way was this agreement made against his will. Although selecting Dr. Murray as his primary physician instead of someone else may have been a poor choice, it was undoubtedly Jackson’s choice. The burden is not upon the seller to provide the best quality of a particular service or product (though, in regards to the web of exchange, it is in his best interest to do so), but rather it is upon the buyer to properly consider as many of the alternatives that are available to him as possible, and to make the most appropriate decision.

Although opinion takes no place in this analysis, I will conclude that the nature of Dr. Conrad Murray’s prosecution is, at the very least, misleading. From a liberty standpoint, it seems that there is no legitimate accusation with which Murray may be charged. He could not have violated a contract established with Jackson acting how he did, and he most certainly had no intention to murder. Motivated by the sadness surrounding the death of the cross-generationally popular entertainer, many people are eager to blame. However, blame purely for the sake of blame cannot be the reason for implicating an otherwise innocent man for a crime that he did not commit.

But perhaps the issue you tackle suggests a concern with Rothbard's analysis? Your analysis speculate's about the nature of a contract between Jackson and his doctor, speculation which is perhaps fine. However, if Jackson were alive, your analysis would seem to play second fiddle to Jackson's own analysis. Unfortunately, if Jackson could think his doctor harmed him, is is unable to carry that case to civil court. Harm which is death, whether in violation of a contract, or murder, seems a difficult issue for Rothbard's no government conclusions. Agree?
I'm not sure I understand your comment; In my own analysis, I made no mention of Rothbard's claim of no government, and brought up government only in the context of a defensible contract. Also, on whether or not Jackson would consider himself having been harmed or transgressed against, I make no observation. Would you describe your thoughts one more time?
I was trying to point toward the reading for this week. Perhaps the question of murder doesn't quite fit the question of enforceable and unenforceable contract? If Jackson were alive he would press his own claim about breech of contract. It seems to me that the actions of the doctor in question might constitute murder. Perhaps his actions end in the accident of Jackson's death. Perhaps his actions were consistent with Jackson contractually assuming the risk of death. If either is the case Jackson would bear the cost of the actions taken by his doctor. The idea of liberty can find "comfort," so to speak, in relying on the harmed person to press the claim of harm before a judge (private or public). But Jackson is not alive to press a claim of harm against his doctor. And, I think this is where I point to the readings for this week. With murder there is harm, but no victim to press a claim for compensation.

In general, if there is an injured party, that person can initiate a claim for compensation after the harm has been received. The issue might involve a contract or not. But when the harm is death, the victim is not alive to press the claim. A person contemplating murder, in these circumstances, does not see a disincentive that is similar to a person breaking a contract or harming a person in some other way. Doesn't this point to a reason for government on liberty grounds?
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