Original. Student reported. Your daily dose of Right-minded news and commentary from across the nation
Libertarian Students Stumble Upon A Stairwell Drunk

It was a late night in Madison, Wisconsin, a city known for the party-hard nature of its college students. A friend and I were returning to my apartment after partaking in some mild revelry across town.

I live on the fourth floor of an industrial-style building. My apartment is across from a stairwell at the end of a long, L-shaped hallway.

After turning the corner in the hallway, my friend and I saw in the distance what looked like a person lying on the ground. As we continued walking, gradually closing in on our destination, we realized that there was, in fact, a person on the floor. He was unanimated. Something was clearly wrong.

My companion is educated in the health sciences, and she was able to assess the situation much better than I. She knelt down next to the man, who must have been trying to enter stairwell only to literally fall short of his objective. Notwithstanding her tapping on his chest and shouting in his ear, he remained unresponsive. Questioning ever more basic tenets of anatomical existence, she felt his pulse. He was breathing.

That the ground-dweller was a college student was obvious, and he appeared to be roughly twenty years old. On this night, his misfortune was likely the result of a miscalculated affair with Lady Libation.

My friend made a 911 call to summon a medical professional. The dispatcher asked her a long series of questions to determine where she was, what the situation was, how old the man was, how much he weighed, whether or not he was breathing, etc.

Within a few minutes, an ambulance arrived. Because of what my friend revealed over the phone, the ambulance was accompanied by a squad car.

In tandem, paramedics and uniformed police officers revived the man. Ultimately it took some intense shaking and shouting to return him to a state of consciousness. They then proceeded to question him.

All of his responses were muddled in tone and nearly incoherent. They asked him what the date was, to which he replied, “two-thousand-nineteen-ninety-nine.” They asked him where he was and where he needed to go. His answers were as pathetic as they were hilarious.

Eventually it was determined that he lived in one of the dormitories on campus. Since he was clearly underage, they took him into custody and escorted him off the premises.

That’s when the questions started—not questions from the police, but questions of conscience. My friend seemed guilt-ridden and very unsure about what we had just done. Should we have called 911 and therefore the police? What if we ruined the rest of the young man’s life?

While maybe hyperbolic, there is a point there. What if that citation injured his relationship with his parents? What if that contentious relationship snowballed into him dropping out of school? What if he then became an unproductive member of society living in squalor, and so on and so forth?

This ethical conundrum is a symptom of our government as we have come to accept it and of what we have allowed it to become. Medical help for someone in need is, in many cases, unattainable without police involvement.

Clearly, the young man behaved idiotically the evening he became a denizen of my corridor. But his crime had no victims. His biggest offense was his lack of one additional revolution around the sun. Yet the potential negative effects of what happened in that stairwell are much larger than a fine.

What should a libertarian—nay, a decent human being—do in that situation? Should you do everything in your power to avoid intrusion from government? Should you do everything in your power to handle the situation yourself?

In retrospect, I would have looked into the young man’s pocket, pulled out his phone, and accessed his most recent call. I would have made that call again, identified who he was, and figured out where he needed to go. I would have gotten somebody to pick him up or I would have taken him myself. I would not have called an ambulance or the police unless death was imminent.

It is troubling to know that by attempting to help someone, you may inadvertently cause harm. Many consequences—such as unnecessary police involvement—are predictable, and should be avoided. The plausibility of unintended consequences should be constantly considered.

Fix contributor Joseph S. Diedrich is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also Director of Operations of Young Americans for Liberty at UW, and a columnist for Washington Times Communities.

Click here to Like The College Fix on Facebook / Click here for @Twitter

IMAGE: Alex Cairncross/Flickr

Add to the Discussion

  • Lo

    Definitely did the right thing…. Very difficult to weigh the pros and cons when in a situation like this. It should be more important that police officers handle someone in this state with concern for their health risk and that they be smart enough and mature enough to handle it without focusing on other aspects that may effect the gentleman’s relationships to come. Had a friend die this way and it will always enrage me to know that others could’ve saved his life – even in my friend’s case death was not at all imminent the night of, sometimes you have no idea what can happen; the consequences of calling for help will never be something you need to regret and are much less than learning the hard way.

    • Cowboydroid

      Why does a police officer need to be involved? Can’t an EMT “handle someone in this state with concern for their health risk” more effectively than just about anyone, including a police officer? The boy was clearly not a threat to anyone, why should the police be involved to any extent?

      The suggestion in the article is that there is not only ONE way to call for help. The suggestion is that there are several ways, and some ways are better for the victim than others.


    The “professor” (what does that mean?) is an idiot,swallowing the propaganda with open mouth, closed eyes,ears & mind. A tragedy occured and this idiot “ptofessor” thinks of racial prejudice as the key for the decision… what a friggin’ idiot. wonder why people are half educated with leftist ideas.. the Leftists in this country have deprived all peoiple, not only blacks and othr minorities of opportunities by swallowing up the sewer spill of “black” leasers, who hvae enslaved their people in not thinking for themselves and depending on government handouts….. it’s all BS and it’s about time ALL MINORITIES wake up to the false prophets and “leaders” that have led them astray….

    The “professor” and his ilk, should re-evaluate what is in their hearts ….a true look at themselves and not what the world throws at them…be honest with yourself for once. Don’t follow the White House adminsistration that has “progressively” promoted racial divide.
    There is along way to go.. and your bigotry shows it self all too well!

    • Mark

      No u are the idiot

    • Marina Sapir

      The professor is not idiot: it is how he got into Berkeley, this is how he got promoted there, These left wing lies is what he sells, with huge profit for himself.

  • Tom Blackmon

    Just think, Janet N., aka Big Sister, is going to be involved with that idiot prof. I can hardly wait for the comedy to begin. Way to go California, keep electing all those leftoids you love, and keep them the hell out there……..

  • Googie Bergdorff

    I spent half of my college years drunk (without ever being a comatose idiot like this guy) so I have no urge to judge the dude. But you did the right thing. People occasionally die from drinking too much, and only medical professionals would know with certainty if he was at risk of that.

    • Cowboydroid

      That still doesn’t explain why the police were involved…

  • Real_American78

    this professor, consciously or not, hates this country. Consciously or not, he’s racist. consciously or not, he wants to diddle little boys. consciously or not, he’s a moron.

  • Daniel DeFonce

    Reality check – Ethics and Morality are not practiced by “doing whatever you like, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.” That’s more like hedonism. Suicide is illegal. It’s unlawful murder, no matter how much the person may want to die. Moral Law exists universally.

    Concerning this fellow drinking himself into comatose in public, is indeed a matter for higher authorities to alleviate if necessary. Police have the just prerogative of keeping public areas (and buildings) safe and the obligation to enforce the law. In the case of this unconscious minor, he not only poses a threat to his own life in his drunken condition on the ground but also to the people who may walk thru the hallway, for someone can trip over the man and hurt him/herself. Thus, he, as an obvious impediment to safe travel and to himself, may rightly fall within the jurisdiction of police correction. But, you may say, people should be smart enough to simply walk around him. Well, if that is true, then likewise this inebriated man should have been smart enough to not drink before the lawful age and to not drink to the point of immobilization. Either way this fellow should be reprimanded and “pay the piper” as it were. This is not a case of inconsequential fun. He could have easily gotten himself killed or mugged, and he poses an indirect threat to the public.

    • Cowboydroid

      Liberty is “doing what you like, without harming anyone else.” If your actions don’t harm anyone else, then on what basis does anyone else get to direct and control your actions?

      Hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure. Liberty is not always the pursuit of pleasure, although it is the pursuit of self-interest.

      Suicide does not violate natural law. YOU are the owner of your own body. Nobody else owns your body, thus nobody else may direct you how to control your body. If someone else was able to control your body against your will, you would be a slave. And slavery is not liberty.

      Tripping over a drunk person in the hallway is a laughable reason to cite the drunk person as a “threat.” People walking through the building are more likely to trip on the stairs and die than trip on a drunk in the hallway and injure themselves. The boy was absolutely no threat to anyone.

      He could have easily been killed or mugged, thus he is a threat to the public? Did you even read this sentence before you hit reply?

  • Rob

    With freedom comes responsibility. Fail at the latter and you lose your right to the former. Simple as that.

  • Daniel Shumaker

    Calling 911 when you find someone unconscious is standard first response. You do not know this person is drunk. There could be a very real life threatening medical situation, such as a diabetic episode or a stroke. Not calling 911 leaves you liable in such a case. I wouldn’t want this hand wringing, second guessing to jeopardize someone’s life. It was that individual’s choice to drink himself into a stupor. His problems with law enforcement are his fault, his responsibility, not the fault of the people calling an emergency number for medical assistance.

    • Cowboydroid

      Tradition is not a necessarily logical. Calling 911 is the traditional response in this situation, but as the author state, it is not necessarily the best way to handle the situation in the victim’s interest.

      No, not calling 911 absolutely does not leave anyone liable. Nobody is liable for the decisions others make.