Jackson case highlights celebrity medicine culture

LOS ANGELES (AP) - November 30, 2011

Despite Judge Michael Pastor's sharp rebuke of Dr. Conrad Murray, medical ethics and legal experts say the outcome is unlikely to dramatically change the culture of celebrity medicine.

There are doctors who will apply the same standard of care to their high-profile patients as the non-famous. Those starstruck will be more likely to cave to patients' demands, overlook their bad habits and operate out of bounds.

"These doctors are ego-crazed and money dependent," said Dr. Steven Miles of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Miles said it's dangerous when a doctor enters into an exclusive relationship with a patient especially if the person is rich and famous.

"It's the kind of environment where the normal checks and balances are very difficult to apply," he said.

Jackson's death and other recent celebrity drug-related deaths have raised questions about how far some doctors will go to cater to their clients.

Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after a monthlong trial. On Tuesday, he was handed the maximum four years behind bars. He will likely only serve two years in county jail because of a recent change in state law.

Jackson died in 2009 from an overdose of the powerful anesthetic propofol. Murray told police he gave the drug nightly to help the singer cope with insomnia as he attempted a comeback tour. Propofol is not approved as a sleep aid and is supposed to be used in the hospital by a trained professional.

Medical experts testifying for the prosecution painted Murray as reckless and said he should have never given Jackson propofol to help him sleep despite the singer's urging.

During the sentencing, Pastor called Murray's treatment of Jackson a "disgrace to the medical profession." He lambasted the doctor for violating "his sworn obligation for money, fame, prestige and whatever else."

Pace University law professor Linda Fentiman said the case will not scare away doctors from taking in celebrity patients. But it may give doctors some leverage with patients who insist on getting their way.

"I'm not sure celebrities can be deterred from trying to get what they want, but a doctor might be able to resist their pleas by saying, `I don't want to end up like Conrad Murray,"' she said.

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