In the last few months there have been many issues plaguing the medical profession that appear to have been met with the line that “it is a grey area”. First there was the issue of cocaine pellets being found in the body of a patient and no report being made to the police. Then came the issue of reporting of suspected sexual offences by doctors in the case of minors. Lately the question of negligence has arisen in the case where the head of a seven-month foetus was sliced open during a Caesarean operation.
Now there is talk by the Minister of Health of Dr Conrad Murray acting as a “voluntary consultant” for heart surgeries. The minister has admitted that Dr Murray has “offered to assist” and media as far away as New Zealand are today reporting that Dr Murray is to be an unpaid (medical) consultant in this country. This last matter begs the question as to whether the Minister of Health does not realise that, where his ministry and the medical profession is under serious scrutiny at this time, it is foolhardy if not plain reckless to add fuel to the fire.
Dr Conrad Murray was convicted in the state of California of involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 death of pop music icon Michael Jackson. He was sentenced to four years imprisonment in November 2011 for the offence. He served two and was released at the end of October 2013. In February this year he was in T&T and was seen at prominent all-inclusive Carnival fetes. Around that time the Minister of Health is reported to have said that there was no reason why Murray could not practise in T&T, if he is approved for a licence by the Medical Board.
If there is any thought at all of Dr Murray practising in T&T, whether as practitioner or a “voluntary consultant”, it is perhaps relevant to note some of what was said at his trial. The sentencing judge said that Dr Murray’s recklessness with Jackson overshadowed his previous good character and his treatment of Jackson was “a cycle of horrible medicine”. He further noted, “Dr Murray engaged in a recurring, continuous pattern of deceit and lies.” He said that far from being remorseful there was umbrage and outrage on the part of Dr Murray against Jackson. In the end, the judge said, “Dr Murray abandoned his patient,” and his conduct was “egregious” and “a disgrace to the medical profession.” Even Ed Chernoff, Murray’s trial lawyer had this to say, “Michael Jackson was a drug seeker, and Dr Murray was wrong in providing it.”
In January 2014 the California appellate court had nothing better to say. In their ruling, that court found that Murray had shown a callous disregard for Jackson’s health and safety. The court held: “The evidence demonstrated that Mr Jackson was a vulnerable victim and [Murray] was in a position of trust, and he [the doctor] violated the trust relationship by breaching standards of professional conduct in numerous respects.”
The US authorities had stated even before he lost his appeal that it did not matter if Murray had a blemish-free record prior to Michael Jackson’s death. “The facts don’t change, he gave anaesthesia to a patient for sleep purposes”. His medical licence has since been revoked in Texas and suspended in California and Nevada. It was also reported that the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has said it will be closely monitoring Murray to make sure he is not able to practice medicine.
Yet here in T&T our Minister of Health was suggesting a week or two ago that there was no reason why Murray could not practise in T&T if he got a licence. In this regard it is of note to mention that Section 12 of our Medical Board Act provides that once he has the relevant qualifications a person is entitled to be registered as a doctor if “he is of good character and a fit and proper person to practise medicine”. The obvious question to be asked is how could Dr Murray, in the light of his conviction and the statements made by both the trial and appellate courts in California, be considered to be of good character or a fit and proper person to practise medicine in this country?
Even if he is to be a “voluntary consultant” in what capacity would he be functioning as such if he is not a fit and proper person to practise medicine?
It is no wonder that the rest of the world, in particular the TMZ celebrity channel, is looking closely at what is happening in T&T in relation to Dr Murray and reporting on it on a daily basis.
One can only hope that neither the Minister of Health nor the Medical Association, both of whom had talked of a “grey area” earlier this year in relation to other matters, finds another grey area in the Murray case to justify allowing him to practise medicine here. In respect of both the issues of the cocaine pellets being found inside a man who had surgery and the need for reporting suspected sexual offences both the minister and the PRO of the Medical Association Dr Trinidade are reported as suggesting that doctor/patient confidentiality may result in a “grey area” in the law.
Allowing Dr Murray to have even, what has been termed by TMZ, a “foot in the door” with even the talk of his being able to practise medicine in T&T, has already raised the spectre of T&T being seen as a banana republic where anything goes. We need to firmly shut that door and instead build the integrity of our medical profession and its institutions.
Dana S Seetahal is a
former independent senator