Dr. Conrad Murray is currently facing trial for involuntary manslaughter for administering a powerful anesthetic that led to the death of Michael Jackson. Murray is part of a growing trend of doctors who are criminally prosecuted for medical malpractice. According to Reuters news service, fewer than 40 doctors faced criminal charges for malpractice between 1809 and 2000. Since 2001, there have been at least 37 cases – almost as many as in the previous 200 years.
The majority of the cases since 2001 involved doctors who have overprescribed prescription painkillers and other controlled substances. Many doctors have been charged under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, which allows prosecution of physicians who knowingly prescribe medication outside the usual course of professional practice or for non-medical purposes.
Prior to the case of Dr. Murray, the most famous prosecution of a doctor involved the death of model and reality TV star Anna Nicole Smith. Dr. Sandeep Kapoor, Smith’s doctor, was charged with supplying the celebrity with dangerous prescription drugs that eventually led to her death. Kapoor was acquitted of the charges against him when the prosecution failed to prove that Kapoor prescribed drugs without a medical purpose.
The case of Conrad Murray is unusual because he administered an anesthetic to Michael Jackson rather than a controlled prescription drug. In addition to criminal charges, Murray is also facing a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Michael Jackson’s father. The majority of medical malpractice cases are tried in civil rather than criminal courts. The American Medical Association opposes the criminalization of medical malpractice and has expressed concern that the trend will interfere with doctors’ ability to treat their patients.
Florida, which is currently the epicenter of prescription drug abuse, has indicted several doctors for overprescribing prescription drugs. In Southern California, Dr. Al Bussum is facing charges of illegal distribution of prescription drugs (he wrote more than 60,000 prescriptions between 2007 and 2010) and Dr. Tyron Reece is charged with dispensing more than 900,000 prescription pills in 2010 alone.
Dr. Conrad Murray’s lawyer has stated that doctors who are legitimately trying to help their patients should not be lumped together with these doctors who run prescription drug “pill mills.” Los Angeles Coroner Dr. Christopher Rogers would probably disagree with this statement since he has stated that Murray’s treatment of Michael Jackson was substandard and resulted in the pop stars death.