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The tragic death of Michael Jackson raises the question whether his physician Conrad Murray can be found criminally liable for Jackson’s death. It has been reported that, in interviews with the police, Dr. Murray has admitted to administering the drug Propofol to Jackson on the day of his death. Propofol is a powerful anaesthetic for use in a hospital setting. It is administered by way of an IV drip, and oxygen must be close at hand as the drug can depress breathing and lower the patient’s heart rate. It was given to Jackson at his home in order to help him sleep. In a carefully worded statement, Murray’s lawyer has said that his client did not administer anything to Jackson which “should have caused” Jackson’s death.

Liability for criminal conduct requires an intent to cause harm. No one would seriously argue that Jackson’s physician intended for his patient to pass away. The issue is the degree to which gross negligence or recklessness, if proven, rise to the necessary level to fix responsibility on Dr. Murray for Jackson’s death under the criminal law. This is not a simple question. Section 219(1) of the Criminal Code provides that “Every one is criminally negligent who (a) in doing anything, or (b) in omitting to do anything that it is his duty to do, shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons.” Section 222(5) states that “A person commits culpable homicide when he causes the death of a human being (a) by means of an unlawful act, (b) by criminal negligence.”

Dr. Murray is reportedly under investigation for manslaughter. If it can be shown that administration of the Propofol was so outside the realm of responsible medical practice, and had the effect of causing Michael Jackson’s death, Dr. Murray might be facing very serious consequences.