Bioethics Blogs

TV Medical Shows Miss the Chance to Teach

I like watching a doctor drama as much as the next person. But I don’t watch it like my friends. That’s because I’m always on alert to the bioethical issues playing out on the small screen. Often the show writers get the issues right and the program, along with its entertainment value, serves as an educational tool for the community. But when they get it wrong my forehead wrinkles and I grit my teeth. And that’s just what happened while watching a recent episode of the long running ‘Grey’s Anatomy’.

The show centered around a female patient who was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor that was causing her to add inches to her height but more importantly, threaten her life. She was given two options: surgery or probable death. The chief of surgery, the persuasive and powerful Dr. Miranda Bailey ( played by Chandra Wilson) made a clear case for surgery. But the patient wasn’t buying it and wanted to be released from the hospital. Here’s where my brow began knitting. The good Dr. Bailey wouldn’t let her go.

Sorry Dr. Bailey, patients, who have capacity, have the right to make bad choices.  That’s the law.  Even though members of the medical team whose sound recommendation(s) are ignored often experience moral distress.

Sure, I wanted the TV patient to say, “Okay Dr. Bailey, you’re right. Schedule the OR.”

But TV drama thrives on controversy. So the patient said no. Dr. Bailey fretted. And then, in TV fashion the patient suffered a complication while in the hospital and was whisked into surgery.

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.