Jackson’s doctor convicted of killing singer

Michael Jackson’s doctor faces jail for killing the singer by injecting strong anaesthetics to help him sleep. What happens to medical ethics when the patient is so rich and so troubled?

He was to be paid $150,000 (£94,000) every month as personal physician to one of the biggest names in global showbusiness. And the team of lawyers prosecuting Conrad Murray for the death of Michael Jackson argued that the money and the close connection to the star made him reckless.

On June 25th 2009, Jackson died from an overdose of propofol, a powerful anaesthetic that should only be used in hospitals, which Murray had been giving him every night for two months to get him to sleep. In the weeks before he died, Murray had ordered four gallons of the drug, even though only a few drops are enough to put an adult man under.

During the course of the six week trial, the court in Los Angeles was told that the doctor had lied to the ambulance crew and the hospital’s emergency room staff about what medication Michael Jackson had been given, and that he had delayed in calling the ambulance: after he had injected the singer with the drug, he left him alone. Later on, he was discovered to have stopped breathing and died of a heart attack.

The defence team said that Murray, whose father was also a doctor, was a dedicated medic who had used the financial rewards derived from rich clients to open a clinic in a deprived area to help the disadvantaged.

On Monday, with the television cameras recording every flicker on every face and relaying it to the crowds of Michael Jackson fans gathered outside the court building, the jury found Murray guilty of involuntary manslaughter. The 58-year-old is likely to lose his medical licence and may be jailed for up to four years.The Deputy District Attorney said that Conrad Murray’s behaviour towards his patient was a criminal breach of the Hippocratic oath and ‘bizarre, unethical, unconscionable.’

Client or patient?

For years Michael Jackson had been dependent on painkillers – he was described as existing in a ‘pharmacological Never Never Land.’ The problem started during treatment for burns and head injuries he suffered in 1984 while filming a commercial. And there is no shortage of medics willing to prescribe sedatives, painkillers and stimulants to celebrities: whereas once it might have been illegal drugs supplied by dealers, now it is a tribe known as the ‘Doc Hollywoods’ bending or breaking the rules for rich private clients with a problem.

Thriller is the best-selling album of all time, and it turns out that Jackson, its creator, may have died unnecessarily. But was this one doctor, blinded by money or not, totally responsible?

You Decide

  1. How easy would it be to decide what’s best for your patient if they were paying you generously to satisfy their need for drugs that could harm them?
  2. Do you think televising high-profile trials is healthy transparency, or does it turn a serious matter into entertainment?

Activities

  1. Research how medical ethics are policed in your own country: the UK has the General Medical Council, which can strip a doctor of his or her right to practice medicine if they are found to have broken the rules.
  2. Write an essay or make a presentation describing the arguments for and/or against televising trials, and for and/or against relaxing the current UK restrictions on what newspapers and television news can report about a trial before it concludes.

Some People Say...

“The rich and famous are easy prey.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why is this case on all the newspaper front pages?
Jackson was a true global megastar. But there is also a fascination with showbusiness cases, which we can all watch because in the US trials are televised. A Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz wrote this week: ‘Televised trials, especially those involving the lives, deaths and crimes of celebrities, have become America’s ultimate daytime reality show.’
Does this help or hinder justice?
Dershowitz says it helps because the full trial shows all the evidence whereas newspaper coverage can be biased or provide only part of the story. And in a democracy justice has to be seen to be done to maintain public confidence in the system. The UK is one of the only countries to ban filming in courts, but the government is considering a change in the rules.

Word Watch

Hippocratic oath
When a medical doctor qualifies, he or she makes a pledge dating back 2,500 years, not to do harm. It includes the line ‘I will not give a drug that is deadly to anyone if asked, nor will I suggest the way to such a counsel.’
Anaesthetic
A drug which removes sensation, allowing medical treatment or surgery to take place. Local anaesthetics limit the area numbed, but a general anaesthetic sends the patient to sleep artificially. It’s a specialist branch of medicine because the patient’s reaction to the drugs has to be measured and monitored so carefully.
Deputy District Attorney
Under the US system, a team of state officials are responsible for prosecuting court cases. In some areas the district attorney is elected by the local population, and in some areas appointed.