The trial of Dr. Murray, Michael Jackson’s doctor, is interesting for more than the fact that it relates to Michael Jackson. It presents an interesting issue of relative culpability in the context of a criminal case.
The concept of relative culpability arises all the time in civil cases. For example, suppose the driver of a commercial truck fails to maintain his brakes. As the truck driver is approaching an intersection, a car driver attempts to beat a yellow light and forces the truck driver to quickly put on his brakes, the brakes, however, are inadequate for the job and a terrible accident occurs. Who is at fault? The car driver was driving a bit recklessly. The truck driver was negligent for failing to maintain his brakes. In these civil cases, in many jurisdictions the jury apportions the damages according to parties’ relative culpability. If the jury believes that the car driver incurred a $100,000 in damages and the truck driver is 60% responsible, the jury might render a judgment against the truck driver for $60,000.
In Dr. Murray’s case it is pretty clear that if it were not for the fact that Dr. Murray administered Propofol as a means of treating Mr. Jackson’s insomnia Mr. Jackson would still be entertaining us today. Propofol is usually administered by anesthesiologists with sophisticated monitoring equipment. For a non-specialist to render such a drug in a private home without the benefit of such monitoring equipment seems clearly negligent.
However, there is more to the story. Dr. Murray was paid $150,000 per month to be Mr. Jackson’s private physician. Mr. Jackson undoubtedly paid that much money for medical services in part to maintain control over that doctor. Being as charitable as possible to Mr. Jackson, he apparently over relied on many prescription drugs in order to cope with his stressful entertainment career. It stands to reason that Mr. Jackson to some degree paid his doctor that kind of money for both constant and immediate access and in order to get the drugs he wanted when he wanted. Based on what I have read about the trial testimony, Mr. Jackson regularly used Propofol as a sleep aid prior to ever hiring Dr. Murray and Dr. Murray was reluctant to administer it.
Assuming for the sake of discussion that this is the case, is Dr. Murray entirely to blame for Michael Jackson’s death? To be sure he should have refused to administer Propofol in those circumstances, but isn’t his reluctance to adamantly refuse Mr. Jackson the drug somewhat understandable? He knew Mr. Jackson had become dependent on it and would only get another doctor to administer it. If Dr. Murray had Mr. Jackson’s trust couldn’t he have rationalized the administration of the drug on the basis that he was going to wean Mr. Jackson from relying on it? If that was the case, what should Dr. Murray’s punishment be?
It strikes me Dr. Murray should be used as an example to all doctors that they must maintain sound medical practices no matter how wealthy and influential the patient. Dr. Murray should definitely lose his license. Perhaps he should also suffer the indignity of a felony conviction. However, based on what I’ve read about the trial, a sentence of imprisonment seems like a harsh outcome.