Bioethics News

When stars seek medical care, risk of ‘VIP Syndrome’ looms

By Aidan Appleby

It is no secret that celebrities receive special treatment, even in the field of medicine. What is less known, however, is that this special treatment can often lead to a lower quality of care. This debate has been thrust into the spotlight in recent years, as music legends Michael Jackson and, more recently, Prince have both died from complications due to prescribed medication.

Conrad Murray, Jackson’s physician, spent two years in prison for his role in the pop star’s death. Instances like this happen because physicians often cross lines with celebrity care that they would not normally cross because the doctors, much like fans, are essentially starstruck. They bend their ethical code in order to please the celebrity. In Jackson’s case, Murray prescribed the singer with propofol, a surgical anesthetic, to help him sleep at Jackson’s request. However, any physician could tell you they would never prescribe propofol to a patient simply because he asked for it.

A recent malpractice lawsuit regarding the care that television personality Joan Rivers received clearly demonstrates that doctors can indeed be starstruck. A surgeon actually took a photo of the actress while she was on the operating table.

Prince’s death was attributed to the drug fentanyl, which is much as 50 times more potent than pharmaceutical-grade heroin, and up to hundreds of times more potent than street heroin. It remains unclear who prescribed him this medication, or if it was obtained illegally, but the CDC has urged doctors to limit opioid prescriptions.

If any profession absolutely requires a strict ethical code, it would be physicians.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.