There isn't much content for half-baked-political-grandstanding in the trial of Conrad Murray, the personal physician charged with manslaughter in the death of Pop King Michael Jackson.
But I have become a fan of the trial nonetheless. Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney David Walgren alleges that 58-year-old Murray in June 2009 gave Jackson a fatal overdose of propofol, a surgical anesthetic that Jackson was apparently using as a sleep aid despite very serious concerns about the drug's potency and contraindications with other medications.
In 12 days of trial, the prosecution has called 33 witnesses, some of them very memorable Hotel California types. Struggling actress Nicole Alvarez, one of three attractive women brought in to testify as former Murray girlfriends, gave testimony that seemed at times closer to an audition than a court appearance. Alvarez endured broad mockery for her statement, "As an actor, your instrument is yourself" — which is pretty funny for its flighty-sounding cadence but is nevertheless true. (People underestimate how demanding a performer's life can be.)
An in-court playing of Murray's initial interview with police this week revealed the $150,000-a-month doctor's Las Vegas home address as of 2009. Take a look. Even in these uncertain times, $1.8 million in annual income can still buy a lot.
As noted above, I can't discern any significant political angle in this story. Jacob Sullum has done excellent coverage for Reason of the dangers of charging doctors for supposedly overprescribing pain medications, but even by the most charitable interpretation the case against Murray seems to go substantially beyond that gray area.
Which is not to presume anything about this case. The defense has promised to call 15 witnesses, including "police officers, experts and some character witnesses." As of Wednesday the crowd outside L.A. Superior Court contained quite a few Murray supporters. I think it's fair to say the case so far has not been promising for the defense, but the D.A. has a long way to go to get to a conviction.
So I boil this down to an ethics-class conundrum: You're a doctor. You're offered a chance to make $150,000 a month to look after one patient. You know the patient is a reclusive genius with tastes that are difficult to satisfy (and whatever the outcome, I'm pretty sure it was Jackson, not Murray, who initially suggested using propofol or "milk" as a get-through-the-day medication). In fact, given the eccentric nature of your patient, there's a very strong probability that the job will end unhappily and with considerable risk to your ability to practice medicine in the United States in the future. But in the meantime you can make bank for as long as you keep him alive — and despite his many personal oddities (which include having dismissed some previous doctors for unclear reasons), the patient has no life-threatening ailments. Do you take the job?