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What if Dr. Conrad Murray Were Your Doctor?

By on November 7, 2011

 Guilty! After two days of deliberation, Dr. Conrad Murray was found guilty in the death of music superstar Michael Joseph Jackson. 


The Conrad Murray-Michael Jackson involuntary manslaughter trial riveted millions around the world. It’s become a prime example of how physicians and patients relate to one another.  As Michael Jackson’s personal private physician, reported to earn $150,000 per month, he now faces up to four years in jail and the loss of his medical license. So a question to all, at what price can you count on A-1 medical care?

Murray was accused of causing the singer’s death by administering a fatal amount of the anesthetic, propofol. Additionally, court testimony alleged that Dr. Murray had not properly supervised his patient or took proper steps after Jackson stopped breathing. Murray could be sentenced to as much as four years in prison and lose his medical license.

Murray’s legal team contended that Jackson gave himself the fatal dose while the doctor was out of the room. But what about the fundamental elements of a doctor-patient relationship? Is the power with a rich, famous patient versus the average person, like you and me? I mean, when a powerful patient asks a doctor to blur the lines in the standard of care, who is culpable?

The doctor-patient relationship can be complex, especially when the physician is responsible for the personal care of a celebrity. A dilemma may arise in situations where determining the most efficient treatment, or encountering avoidance of treatment, creates a disagreement between the physician and the patient. In such cases, the physician needs strategies for presenting unfavorable treatment options or unwelcome information in such a way that minimizes strain on the doctor-patient relationship while benefiting the patient’s overall physical health and best interests.

As with any professional relationship, there are boundaries, and medical personnel are also bound by professional ethics and  licensure rules. In the death of Michael Jackson and the use of addictive medications, like propofol, the need for extreme care cannot be underestimated. The Jackson family was in attendance throughout the 6-week trial and now the verdict.  

The Conrad Murray trial is fraught with lessons of what went wrong within the doctor-patient relationship but also may preview what is to come. Imagine if physicians become more and more hesitant to treat patients dealing with chronic pain?

One of the main worries is precipitating fatal opiod overdoses. Indeed, according to the CDC, and reported by American Medical News, “fatal opiod overdoses tripled to nearly 14,000 from 1999 to 2006 … [and] emergency department visits involving opioids more than doubled to nearly 306,000 between 2004 and 2008.”

Many doctors are already wary about treating chronic pain, even going so far as to have chronic pain patients sign pain contracts. All in an effort to minimize risks. Dr. Kevin Pho has written on this issue on his own website here.

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