Rebecca Elia's Blog

All about Feminine Health, Healing, and Greece

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Who is Responsible for Michael Jackson's Death?

Because Michael Jackson’s death has affected us all, I’m going to deviate from my usual posts to share my thoughts. Many individuals have asked me, in my role as a physician, to comment. His tragic death (and life) has brought up many important controversial issues.

First, let me be clear: I am not condoning any irresponsible or criminal behavior on the part of a physician. If these medications were not prescribed responsibly then, of course, this needs to be addressed, as it should be in any situation in which doctors are prescribing irresponsibly. When a person is addicted, they will use extreme means to obtain the addictive substance, and anyone with power or money will be more successful in obtaining these substances.

1. Michael Jackson was misunderstood by many. He viewed the world differently from others. We need to be very careful when judging another human being whom we do not understand. I would go so far as to say that we probably shouldn’t be judging him at all. But it is clear to me that he suffered from being misunderstood. It is also clear that he was dealing with both emotional and physical problems that were not treated by addressing the underlying causes. Conventional medicine is limited in diagnosing and treating underlying causes. This needs to be acknowledged. Addictions are also extraordinarily difficult to treat, and, when treated, relapses are the rule rather than the exception. Also, perhaps most important, the individual needs to want to heal (or be forced by those around him to seek treatment).

2. This leads me to the next point. Did Michael choose treatment for his addiction? Did those closest to him fail in getting him help? These are loaded questions. It is near impossible for someone who is addicted to “choose” treatment. It is equally difficult for others to enforce treatment, especially with someone so independently powerful and isolated.

3. So who, ultimately, is responsible? The doctors who filled his prescriptions? Michael, himself? Michael’s friends and relatives who were unable to recognize that he needed help, or recognized this need but were unable to intervene? What about those making career-related demands? How about society as a whole? What about all of the people who misunderstood him? And those who may have abused him emotionally or physically?

I feel that the issue of responsibility is too complex to blame any one person. If we look deeper, we will probably find many responsible. I was surprised by the extent of Deepak Chopra's anger. I have no reason to doubt his allegation that this is a common occurrence between celebrities and their doctors, and, as a physician who can’t remember the last time she wrote a prescription for a narcotic, I certainly understand his anger. I can’t help but notice, though, that his anger seems personally charged, and this makes me ask the question of whether or not he personally feels responsible for not being able to help Michael. I heard the same anger in the Jackson family attorney’s voice when he said that he had “warned” the family. I understand this all too well. Patients frequently expect me to take responsibility for their health. We each need to start taking responsibility for our own health and choices, rather than passing off this responsibility to others.

The chronic pain management situation has become almost schizophrenic. As physicians, we, in the past, have been so hesitant to prescribe narcotics that many patients who truly need them have been undertreated, and their chronic conditions have worsened. This has become so common that the State of California now requires all physicians to take a twelve-hour course about chronic pain management and end-of-life care. I hope that the outcome of this “investigation” of Michael Jackson’s death does not have the undesired effect of decreasing access of these medications to those who are in true need. I also hope that his death will bring more attention to finding viable solutions to addiction and chronic pain.

Lastly, I hope that Michael Jackson has finally found peace. We honor him, and we will miss him.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this.


  1. A well-reasoned and timely post, Rebecca. It's good to read something on this subject that doesn't add more to the armchair postmortem hype.

  2. Thanks Cara, I find hyped-up media, especially surrounding things medically-related, to be very difficult to navigate. It is my hope that attention will eventually be placed on all of the important issues that have been brought up by MJ's death.

  3. What a wonderful post! You wrote a lovely tribute to Michael Jackson despite the swirling rumors surrounding his death.

    As an individual that suffers with horrid chronic pain 24/7, I very much appreciated the point made when you stated that doctors are: "hesitant to prescribe narcotics that many patients who truly need them have been undertreated, and their chronic conditions have worsened." *You are absolutely correct on that note.*

    With all of the information in the media about drug abuse, it is scary for those of us that rely on these drugs to survive. Prior to my workplace injury of Nov/07, I did not have so much as a bottle of Tylenol or even aspirin in my home. Now...narcotics are essential so that I may carry out even the simple activities of daily living.

    I do not wish to get "high," I simply want relief from the unrelenting pain that would rule my life if not for these analgesics. It is truly a catch-22. I don't want to take them-but I have no choice if I wish to get out of bed...

    There must be some way to better monitor the situation. Be it blood or urine testing/counting pills etc. Or, perhaps even more research to find a drug that effectively controls pain, yet does not come with as many side-effects or addiction potential. Surely if the scientists put their minds to it they could develop such a thing? I would be the first in line to try it!

    I do not have all the answers,but I certainly wish I did. I simply don't want the chronic pain sufferers to end up grouped with those that abuse narcotics. Not that I do not have sympathy for those that struggle with addiction; It is just that abusers & those with chronic pain are completely different-like apples & oranges.

    Thanks again for such a great post & for allowing me to give my opinion!

    Jeannette :>)

  4. Thank you for your comments, Jeannette.

    You bring up so many important issues.

    I am sorry to hear that you a struggling with chronic pain. It is one of many areas in which conventional medicine has limited solutions. I am pleased, however, that this subject is being given much more serious attention as evidenced by requiring California physicians to take a course in pain management. There are also more experts in the field of pain management. But you are right--we have a long way to go. I imagine that working closely in conjunction with complementary modalities will end up yielding the best solutions.

    It was my hope that Michael Jackson's death would draw our attention to these important issues, rather than resulting in our usual quick placement of blame and "moving on." We are so unwilling, as a culture, to look at personal responsibility, and we have such a long way to go in dealing with these important issues.

    Thanks again, and I wish you the best.