Murray is standing trial as a result of his handling of the death of pop star Michael Jackson, who was Murray’s only patient at the time. Jackson, age 50, died on June 25, 2009. Authorities concluded that Jackson’s death was caused by an overdose of propofol, a surgical anesthetic, and claim that the drug was administered by Murray. Murray has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and has pleaded not guilty.
Murray’s defense team has now abandoned what was once the cornerstone of their case: that Jackson’s death could have resulted from the singer swallowing additional doses of propofol on his own accord while Murray was out of the room. Murray’s defense team now concedes that, in keeping with studies introduced into evidence by the prosecution, swallowing the medication would have had, at most, minimal effects.
Murray told police shortly after the singer’s body was found that, after he administered the additional dose, he had left the room for a few minutes to find a restroom. According to Murray, Jackson was no longer breathing when he returned. Prosecution experts, however, vigorously attacked Murray’s decision to leave his patient unattended. Steinberg stated that it is improper to leave a patient under the influence of propofol unattended, comparing it to a mother walking out of a room and leaving an infant crawling on a countertop. Kamangar asserted that Murray violated a fundamental precept of the Hippocratic oath by abandoning his patient, an oath graduates of medical assistant schools and medical assistant colleges are trained to follow.
Murray also endured harsh criticism for his failure to promptly call 911 after discovering that Jackson was in distress. According to statements Murray made to the police, he noticed that Jackson had stopped breathing at approximately noon, but 911 dispatch records show that he did not call for assistance until 12:20. Once the call was placed, the paramedics responded quickly, arriving at the scene six minutes later.
Addressing the delay, Steinberg testified that professional guidelines allow only two minutes to assess a situation like the one that faced Murray in Jackson’s bedroom. Steinberg went on to state that if Murray had immediately called 911, paramedics could have treated Jackson with oxygen and saved his life. Steinberg expressed shock and indignation at Murray’s disregard for the well-being of his patient. On cross-examination, Steinberg was adamant that Murray’s conduct was criminal, flatly contradicting Murray’s claim that he only administered 25 milligrams of propofol. Based on his review of Murray’s statements to the police, Steinberg testified that Murray must have given Jackson a continual dose through an I.V. drip.
Prosecution experts also criticized Murray’s use of propofol to treat insomnia, stating that surgical anesthetics are not an approved treatment for insomnia in the United States, and that it is improper to prescribe medications with such strong addictive tendencies without obtaining a detailed history. Both Steinberg and Kamangar testified that Murray is responsible for Jackson’s death even if the singer took the drugs himself, as Murray would have been able to anticipate and prevent the problem if he had conducted a proper history.
Murray’s license has been suspended awaiting the outcome of the trial.
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