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MJJC Exclusive Q&A with Dr. Steve Shafer Part 1
This is Part 1 of 3 of Dr. Steve Shafer's answers to MJJCommunity questions. In this first installment Dr. Shafer will be answering questions about Michael Jackson, himself (Dr. Shafer) and Conrad Murray trial in general.
Questions about Michael Jackson in general
MJJC: Have you ever listened to Michael Jackson’s music and if yes, what song is your favorite?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I grew up listening to Michael Jackson’s music, just like the rest of the world. Thriller was the only album that I knew well, and “Beat it” is my favorite track from it. The message and the music both appealed to me.
MJJC: What was your opinion about Michael Jackson before this trial?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I knew very little about his personal life, other than the occasional sensational headlines. I intentionally read nothing about his life before the trial, because I did not want to introduce bias into my testimony. I’ve read a lot since the trial.
MJJC:Did your opinion about Michael Jackson change during and after this trial? Positively or negatively, and what is your current opinion about Michael Jackson?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Yes. During the trial I saw him as a patient, just like many patients I’ve cared for. During the trial I had no mental image of Michael Jackson as an icon or famous entertainer. He was a patient who died receiving medical care. It was important to keep focused on him as a patient.
Having said that, I was conscious that his interactions with Conrad Murray were, in part, a tragic side effect of his wealth. I spent 20 years on the faculty at Stanford University, and more recently at Columbia University. Patients who are very wealthy often choose a big-name medical center. Most wealthy patients are very kind and decent people. However, I occasionally encounter a wealthy patient who believes that because he or she is rich, he or she can simply tell me how to give anesthesia. That is what they are used to: giving orders and having people say “yes.” I believe that Michael Jackson fell into this trap: believing that he could tell doctors what to do and expect them say “yes.” This doesn’t excuse his doctors for saying “yes.” However, wealth and fame can be a curse.
My opinion of Michael Jackson is that he was an immensely gifted musician, entertainer, and genuinely compassionate individual. However, he was thrust into (well deserved) stardom as a youngster, and spent his entire life under the glare of public scrutiny. That does not seem like a blessing to me. To me it seems like a tragedy. He never lived a normal life.
MJJC: During the trial, the defense and various media outlets repeatedly called Michael Jackson a "drug addict". Based on your knowledge and research in this case, would you say that Michael Jackson was a "drug addict" or not?
Dr. Steve Shafer: “Addiction” is a lay term, not a medical term. The correct medical term is substance dependency. You will find an accurate explanation of this in Wikipedia. You can also find a good description at http://www.csam-asam.org/pdf/misc/DS..._diagnosis.doc.
I think Michael Jackson likely had a dependency on sedatives at the time of his death, because he was receiving intravenous sedatives every night. That type of regular exposure is almost certain to cause dependency.
MJJC: Can Dr. Shafer render an opinion on the chronic condition of Michael’s lungs (respiratory bronchiolitis, multifocal chronic interstitial pneumonitis, chronic inflammation)? Some TV doctor (Dr. Drew) alleged that it could be due to continuous/long term Propofol use. However MJ is known to have Pleurisy at 1977 and reported to say “he had a blister on his lungs” in later years. Could it be caused by the Propofol or could it be related to his Lupus?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Propofol is commonly used for infusions in intensive care units. I am not aware of any primary effect of propofol on the lungs. However, because Michael Jackson’s trachea (windpipe) was not protected while he was receiving propofol, he could have regularly inhaled small amounts of saliva or regurgitated stomach contents while anesthetized from propofol. That can damage the lungs and produce chronic inflammation.