Blog | Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Should Michael Jackson's doctor practice medicine again?

Before Michael Jackson, most folks didn’t know what propofol was. Now, patients are asking me for it by name. It’s an awesome drug. It provides a beautiful sedation, is extremely safe and rapidly clears after the procedure. Under its effects, colonoscopy has become a sublime experience.

We administer it in a different manner than Conrad Murray did. For those who may have just awakened from a 5-year coma, Conrad Murray was Michael Jackson’s personal physician who administered propofol to Jackson in his home to promote sleep. Murray succeeded and received the modest salary of $150,000 per month for his medical services.

Administering propofol in a patient’s home without necessary monitoring and training is an egregious breach of standard medical practice. Those of us who use the drug properly were shocked to learn of this doctor’s reckless and indefensible care. Here are a few hypothetical examples of similarly negligent care:
• a surgeon removing your appendix in the back seat of your car.
• a psychiatrist hanging up on a patient who is threatening suicide.
• an internist invites recovering alcoholic patients to a wine tasting event.

Murray will be released this month after serving time for involuntary manslaughter. At present, he does not have a valid license to practice medicine, but hopes to be reinstituted into the profession.

Should he be barred from medicine for life? I believe that the depth of his negligence warrants expulsion from the profession. If fact, if his conduct doesn’t result in permanent loss of a medical license, then what would?

Is there a different outcome that would allow this man to use his medical skills and serve the greater good? What if he were given a medical license with stringent restrictions and strict oversight? If he were required, for example, to practice in an underserved community and was tightly supervised by a physician, would we support this outcome?

I have my own view here, but I’d like to know yours.

This post by Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, appeared at MD Whistleblower. Dr. Kirsch is a full time practicing physician and writer who addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.