With proper treatment, Michael Jackson would be alive, expert says

An expert witness for the prosecution said Conrad Murray, the doctor attending Michael Jackson, committed several egregious errors the day the pop star died.

Reed Saxon/AP
Anesthesiology expert Steven Shafer demonstrates how propofol is extracted out of a glass bottle with a syringe during Conrad Murray's involuntary manslaughter trial Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles.

Pop star Michael Jackson would be alive and completely uninjured had his personal physician been properly trained and equipped to administer the anesthetic propofol, an expert in anesthesiology testified on Wednesday.

Steven Shafer told the jury that Conrad Murray, Mr. Jackson’s personal doctor, committed 17 egregious violations of the standard of care for patients that contributed to Jackson’s death in June 2009.

Among the violations was that Dr. Murray waited 20 minutes before calling 911.

“I almost don’t know what to say, that is so completely and utterly inexcusable,” Dr. Shafer said. “A physician would not do that.”

“It is almost impossible that Michael Jackson could have been revived,” Shafer said, given the 20-minute delay before calling paramedics.

Had Murray called 911 immediately, Shafer said, Jackson would have likely survived the ordeal but with significant brain damage.

In contrast, had Murray been properly equipped with standard resuscitative devices and also called 911 promptly, “Michael Jackson would be alive and uninjured,” Shafer told the jury.

His testimony at the Los Angeles County Courthouse came on the 13th day of Murray’s trial on charges that he administered a fatal dose of propofol and other sedatives to Jackson in an attempt to treat the pop legend’s chronic insomnia.

Murray has pleaded not guilty. Defense lawyers suggest Jackson may have administered the fatal dose himself in a desperate attempt to fall asleep.

Shafer, an expert in anesthesiology at Columbia University Medical Center, attacked nearly every aspect of Murray’s treatment and his frantic but unsuccessful efforts to revive Jackson after he stopped breathing.

Shafer said propofol is not an accepted treatment for insomnia, and that Murray should have refused Jackson’s request to use the drug as a sleep aid. Instead, Murray ordered gallons of propofol and gave Jackson nightly intravenous doses of the milky-looking anesthetic.

“We are in pharmacological never-never land here,” Shafer said. “[This is] something that has only been done to Michael Jackson and no one else to my knowledge.”

He added: “Any dose of propofol is a dangerous dose.”

The expert witness said Murray was ill-equipped to administer the powerful anesthetic in the bedroom of Jackson’s rented mansion.

Propofol is almost always administered in a hospital or surgical clinic, where doses can be carefully regulated, vital signs can be tracked on monitors, and a patient can be quickly revived with an array of resuscitative equipment, if necessary.

“I have patients that stop breathing every day,” Shafer testified. “It’s no big deal because I know what to do.”

He said one of Murray’s most egregious failings was that he did not pay close enough attention to Jackson as he was under sedation. He criticized Murray for spending time receiving phone calls, sending e-mails and text messages, and taking two minutes to relieve himself in the bathroom.

Murray told police that upon returning from the bathroom he noticed Jackson had stopped breathing.

Shafer said leaving a propofol-sedated patient would be like leaving the wheel of a motor home while driving on the highway to use the bathroom. “No matter how full your bladder is, you don’t leave the steering wheel,” Shafer said. “Dr. Murray left the steering wheel.”

He said the inattention to his patient was “a setup for disaster.”

Shafer also criticized Murray for failing to reveal to paramedics and emergency room doctors that Jackson had been given propofol. “When information is withheld from the people trying to save the life of your patient, you have violated that [doctor-patient] trust in ways that are so foreign to me that I have trouble conceiving of it,” he said.

Murray is charged with involuntary manslaughter. If convicted he faces up to four years in prison and loss of his medical license.

Shafer’s testimony is expected to continue on Thursday with cross-examination by a defense lawyer.

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