Michael Jackson’s Death: Who’s to Blame?

November 16, 2011

Dirty Hands, Political Theory


Michael Joseph Jackson, commonly referred to as the King of Pop, died unexpectedly at the age of 50 on June 25, 2009. Days later, it was ruled that “acute propofol intoxication” in combination with two other drugs in his system caused his death (propofol is a powerful anesthetic normally only given in hospitals.) It was later discovered that he acquired this drug from his personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray. Murray was paid 150,000 dollars a month to be Jackson’s personal physician as he prepared for his “This Is It” tour in London. Because it was Murray who was responsible for supplying Jackson with the lethal dose of drugs that ultimately killed him, Murray was charged with involuntary manslaughter, and was convicted on November 7th, 2011.

I believe that this case can tie into two topics we discussed in class. First, the problem with the invention of property, as Rousseau argues. Prosecutors stated that Murray supplied Jackson with propofol because of the amount of money he was being paid, and that he would do anything to ensure that the money kept coming; he would even improperly and recklessly administer drugs that are normally only given in hospitals. They even went as far as to say that Murray’s work with Jackson “amounted to a ‘pharmaceutical experiment.’” As Rousseau argues, property is not real; it is a trick. We have rules, foundations, and implications that go along with property, even though it is just a possessive entity. Once property is introduced to society, power, self-love, and social comparison exist. He goes on to explain that property allows for the exploitation, domination, and, ultimately, corruption of human nature as a whole. In the case of Michael Jackson, the money is the property. Jackson was able to dominate and persuade Murray to illegally administer propofol by paying him off with large sums of money. Murray was clearly compelled, and he accepted.

The issue of Dirty Hands can also be tied into this case. In class, we discussed Dirty Hands in relation to politicians, but this problem can be interpreted as an issue for the medical profession as well. As a licensed physician, Murray pledged his loyalty and respect to all the rules that were put in place for the medical practice. However, for some reason he went outside of those boundaries and broke these rules. We came to the conclusion in class that Dirty Hands in politics may simply be unavoidable, and that we have to accept that politicians perform tasks to achieve some great goods, while looking for the least evil outcome. As Murray’s attorneys indicated, the reason why Jackson planned his “This Is It” tour from the start was to pay off his outstanding debt, adding up to approximately 400 million dollars. Due to this, Jackson was extremely stressed and nervous about not performing well enough on his tour. Murray’s lawyers argued that due to the fact that Jackson was in so much debt, he would have done anything to ensure that he got enough rest to perform well at the concert. So, perhaps Murray believed that by supplying Jackson with the propofol (getting his hands dirty), that it would actually help Jackson with his sleep and stress, thus eradicating his debt problem (some greater good). If this was indeed his intention, can this be classified as an issue of dirty hands even though his actions only benefited one person, instead of many? Do his intentions justify his actions?

Looking over this case, many questions start to come to mind. First, what was Murray thinking? As a licensed physician, he had to know that giving Jackson these drugs was illegal, but could he actually have not known that they would kill him? It is here when Rousseau’s arguments really begin to make sense to me: maybe the invention of property really does make society corrupt.  Without property, greed would not exist. If greed did not exist then maybe Murray wouldn’t have felt compelled to give Jackson the drugs for the money. What is certain, however, is that Murray did in fact get his hands dirty, but were his intentions good? Should that matter when deliberating what his punishment should be? I personally believe that the jury came to the correct verdict, but do others?

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10 Comments on “Michael Jackson’s Death: Who’s to Blame?”

  1. bmschmid Says:

    Dr. Murray’s intentions were definitely not good. He was getting a paid an absurd amount of money and he did what he needed to do to maintain that cash flow. Dr. Murray most likely did not care about Michael Jackson’s financial worries. As long as he got his share, the rest didn’t matter. He did not have the best intentions for Jackson. If he did, he would have never prescribed a drug that is only used in hospitals. If Murray did not have the ultimate (good) intention of helping Michael Jacksons Life, then Murray did not dirty his hands. You can only encounter the dirty hands problem if your larger intention is for the benefit of the people. It seems like Murray just did something inhumane due to the power of greed.

  2. briank726 Says:

    I do think that the jury reached the correct verdict. The defendant made a number of reasons pleading his case, but I don’t think any of them justified his actions. Murray had solely been looking after his own interest. I don’t think Dirty Hands even fully applies here because there was no real greater good Murray was trying to obtain by breaking boundaries as a physician. There are many theories about the definite cause for Murray’s actions. Some are so far-fetched as to say Murray was ordered by higher-ups to murder Michael Jackson. Whatever the actual reason was, there is no doubt that Dr. Murray played a substantial part in Jackson’s death, and he could have acted otherwise in order to prevent it.

  3. benjishanus Says:

    To keep things short and sweet, Michael Jackson is a crazy lunatic and Dr. Conrad Murray was unfortunately blinded by the same thing that so many other people in society fall victim to: money. Money is power, and power is everything in this world. Does that justify what Dr. Murray did? Of course not. His hands have definitely been dirtied, as you indicated. However, I just think it is important to keep in mind that although this is a very extreme case pertaining to one of the most controversial figures society has ever known, there are countless other cases of bribery taking place every hour every day.

    So to answer your question regarding what Murray was thinking, in my opinion, he WASN’T thinking. He was blinded by the opportunity to make a profit, which unfortunately means everything in the world we live in. It is as simple as that. People often make irrational decisions when it comes to making money or performing an action to increase their respective level of power. That is the reality of the harsh world we live in.

  4. goldman13 Says:

    i don’t think this is a case of dirty hands. “Dirty hands” describes a situation in which a person does something morally wrong in order to achieve something beneficial. However, the benefits need to help more than just one person. If Dr. Murray had been breaking the law in order to help hundreds of patients, perhaps maybe increasing their health via a drug unapproved by the FDA, then his actions could be categorized as “dirty hands.”

    I know people feel very strongly about this and i have not followed this case as religiously as others, but Michael Jackson had major health issues prior to his death. The only reason he had a private physician was because he needed it, and perhaps he shouldn’t have been touring if his health was that precarious.

    …Which brings me to my next point; if Michael Jackson was 400 million dollars in debt, how could he afford to pay Dr. Murray $150,000 a month?

  5. euriosti Says:

    Although Murray was involved in the death of Jackson, it’s hard to blame him as the reason Jackson died. If Jackson wanted to take these drugs, he was going to find a way to get them. If it wasn’t Murray, I’m sure there are other doctors that would provide Jackson with the drugs. Nobody forced Jackson to take any drugs. He took the drugs, he should be responsible for the consequences. Murray simply enabled Jackson. Murray benefited from this, but in no way was he doing anything malicious. The idea of property may have been a motivation for Murray, but I don’t think this falls under dirty hands. Jackson is the one who assumes the risk of taking drugs by hiring Murray.

  6. acicurel Says:

    Murray essentially acted as a drug dealer and not a doctor. He ignored the well-being of Jackson so that he could improve his wealth and therefore not a problem of dirty hands. While it may be true that many other doctors would have done the same thing had Murray shown good morals and refused to administer the drug, this does not excuse his actions. If it excused his actions, any drug dealer would be able to use the excuse that he or she is simply a part of a failed system in which their job would be replaced by another dealer. Murray’s intentions were simply to benefit himself, otherwise the government would have charged him with voluntary manslaughter or murder. Murray had no incentive to kill his Jackson. The fact that his actions were involuntary reinforces that he acted simply as a drug dealer in his own best interests.

  7. elotis Says:

    I believe this is a classic case of dirty hands because I do not believe that Dr. Murray’s intentions were wrong. Yes, he did break the rules of the medical field and should have refused to administer the excessive amounts of drugs to Jackson if he knew that they would be lethal. However, as a doctor obligated to the care of his patient, if Jackson was in severe pain and Murray gave him the amount of propofol that Jackson requested, then Murray was simply looking out for what his patient wanted. I do agree with the opinions that Murray should have known better and is responsible for Jackson’s death. However, I do not believe his intentions were wrong, I do not believe that he wanted to kill Michael Jackson. The excessive amount of money Murray was being paid may make it seem suspicious, but I believe that Murray was simply doing what Jackson wanted. Whether or not Murray was doing the right thing is definitely questionable, but I find it difficult to argue that his intentions were bad and he wanted to seriously harm or kill Jackson.

  8. parijog Says:

    I really liked your use of the dirty hands dilemma to shed light in this case. My initial reaction upon reading about this case was to side with the doctor. I come from a family of doctors and have heard all to often about the way lawyers and the legal system tend to make doctors out to be evil even when they were simply trying to do the most good. My opinions changed however as I read into this post.
    All doctors must make the Hippocratic oath when they are given their white coats and licensed to care for others. In this oath they pledge to act in the best interest of the patients health in all cases. While Dr. Murray may have been acting out of interest in helping Michael Jackson with a successful tour, he was certainly not acting in the best interest of his health. Dr. Murray’s hands became dirty when he tried to help Michael Jackson’s career and sacrificed his health to do it. As a doctor, his hands should have been dirtied by sacrificing Michael Jackson’s career for his health. Murray should have advised Michael Jackson in stress reduction and admitted him to the hospital if such powerful drugs were to be necessary.

  9. jrsmyth177 Says:

    After reading this I was convinced that the doctor had dirty hands. After thinking a little I do not know if we can apply the dirty hands theory here. In order for this theory to work, someone must do something immoral to benefit the people of the state. I only see one person who benefits from the actions Murray, and that is Murray. I just do not see more than one person benefiting from this action. I think that Murray’s hands are full of dirt by supplying Jackson with the drugs, but I do not think he “dirtied his hands” by Hollis’ theory.

    I agree with what you say about Rousseau. The money brought about corruption and exploitation to Murray. He ultimately used Jackson’s offer to do whatever he needed to do to obtain more property (money). I think this is a good way to go and I would say that once all the money came to the table, corruption and immoral actions came in too.

    I think the jury came to the correct verdict. I also do not think any of Murray’s intentions were good. He was doing all he could do to get the money. I am sure he cared about Jackson’s health, but I think the money had more meaning. I think the actions of Murray were irresponsible and he has nobody to blame but him. He could have backed off from the offer and allowed some other physician to do the dirty work. At the same time I think that Jackson should have been a little safer with the drugs. There were irresponsible actions on each side of the equation.

  10. #jasonschwartz Says:

    I disagree with your point that this can be applied to the dirty hands principle and actually think that it is the exact opposite of dirty hands that is going on in this case. The doctor knew that these drugs would eventually kill MJ however he continued to give them to him. Over the short term the drugs would help MJ with his stress, which is a good thing. However, over the long term this is acctually a bad thing as it became the cause of Michael Jackson’s death. Thus a good thing happening so a bad thing will follow is the EXACT opposite of dirty hands. As a result dirty hands cannot be applied to this situation.

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