Criminal Medicine: When Malpractice Turns to Manslaughter

In most cases, if a physician performs negligently, a patient or the family of a patient can seek civil damages. In rare circumstances, if a patient dies due to the negligence of a doctor, a criminal charge of manslaughter may be justified. Negligent behavior should not be confused with physician assisted suicide.

The introduction of criminal consequences for medical negligence has put added pressure on medical professionals, who already face enormous demands on a daily basis to perform everything from simple procedures to miracles. Doctors and other medical professionals are held to higher ethical and professional standards, which gives them greater burdens and greater responsibilities.

The Case of Dr. Conrad Murray

Dr. Conrad Murray is the cardiologist hired by Jackson to be the singer’s personal physician in May of 2009 as he prepared for a come-back tour. Jackson died on June 25, 2009, after Conrad administered a series of anesthetics, including the powerful propofol. Murray initially told investigators he gave Jackson the drugs about 11 a.m. and left the room momentarily. After returning, Murray told investigators Jackson was unresponsive and not breathing. Murray stated he tried to revive him, but no one called an ambulance until 12:21 p.m. Later, Murray’s attorney stated investigators were incorrect, and that Murray had stated he did not discover Jackson until noon.

The Los Angeles County coroner released Jackson’s autopsy report, which stated that his death was a homicide due to “acute propofol intoxication.” According to the Associated Press and, Murray’s specific criminal complaint states that he acted “without the caution and circumspection required” regarding medication the doctor gave to Jackson. Investigators spoke to more than 10 medical experts to decide whether Murray’s actions “fell outside the bounds of reasonable medical practice.”

Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice is medical practitioner negligence by act or omission regarding reasonable care of a patient. This includes failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis, failure to provide appropriate treatment and unreasonable delay in providing treatment. Each state varies in damages limits, procedural guidelines and legal requirements in medical malpractice lawsuits. Along with monetary damages, a medical professional also faces the possibility of losing their license.