Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Liability of Corporate Persons

The recent death of a young woman from an overdose in my small community raised that issue to the front of my mind, which meant a recent article from the Washington Post leapt to my attention.

In the article, there was a sobering statistic.  In 2011, there were just over 4,400 overdose deaths from heroin.  Just three years later, there were over 10,000.   That's tough, and a major shift.

But what caught my eye was the datapoint they included after that.  If you count all opioid overdoses...meaning, you include overdoses on the prescription opiates manufactured by Big Pharma...the 2014 death toll rises to 28,000.

More than twice as many Americans overdosed on legal narcotics than on heroin.  Which makes me think.

The focus of the article was the growing trend on the part of law enforcement to accuse those who provide the lethal substance of murder.  If a boyfriend or a wife provides heroin to an overdose victim?  They're accused of murder.

If this is going to be policy, then I wonder how that relates to the corporations that manufacture most of the narcotics in this country.  Because oxycodone is no different from heroin.  Their pharmacology is functionally the same.  They are just as addictive, and just as dangerous.  They are simply legal heroin.  And heroin, when first produced, was legal.  Thanks, Bayer.

Prescription narcotics are also a clear, direct, and profit-driven gateway to heroin.  They create an intense and sustained addiction that is, for the addict, indistinguishable from other opiates.  That addiction, unless very closely managed, compromises the integrity of human beings.  It actively eliminates human freedom, the ability to choose or not choose that is at the essence of our moral nature and our God given liberty.  Once you're hooked, you're significantly compromised.  Only with the most massive of efforts can you break those chains.

So.  If corporations are people, as the law of the land now indicates, perhaps we should run with that.

If you are a person, you have rights.  But if you have rights under the law, you must also be liable under the law.  You cannot have one without the other, claiming the protection of the state without granting the state full authority over your person.

If we have corporations producing a substance that is radically addictive and has a dangerous therapeutic index (the effective dose/lethal dose ratio), then perhaps it is time to consider these organizations as persons.  Meaning, if we'll incarcerate a human person for the crime of providing a lethal overdose, we should also incarcerate the corporate person responsible.

Meaning seizing assets.  Meaning holding C-suite denizens collectively liable as representatives of the corporate person who claims rights under the law.

Persons, after all, are morally accountable.  They have full, not limited, liability.

Let's say it like we mean it.