Propofol is a surgical anesthetic safely used only in a hospital operating room or a comparably equipped medical facility with continuous monitoring of the patient’s heart rate and breathing. The idea of using propofol as a sleep aid in a private home, with a doctor occasionally looking in? Unthinkable, before Michael Jackson’s death.
Now Dr. Conrad Murray has been convicted of manslaughter for his role in Jackson’s death. Murray was supposed to be Jackson’s personal doctor, a unique physician with only one patient, who was paid $150,000 a month by Jackson’s concert agency to keep the singer healthy.
Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor violates basic patient safety rules and causes harm to a patient. But this was much worse. Dr. Murray was guilty not just of breaking rules, but of a fundamental conflict of interest. Apparently seduced by his large monthly salary, he threw his medical judgment out the window and let Michael Jackson wheedle him into dangerous and ultimately fatal behavior with powerful prescription drugs. If he had “just said no,” like any ethical, responsible physician would have done, Jackson presumably would have shopped for some other doctor to supply him drugs. But then Jackson’s death would have been on some other hands, and Murray would not be facing prison and loss of his medical license.
While this is a particularly egregious example, conflicts of interest are common in medicine, from unnecessary surgery to advocating drugs, surgical devices and other treatments based on the doctor’s relationship with the drug or device manufacturer.