Bioethics Blogs

BioethicsTV: 10/20 – Distributing organs, scope of practice, poverty, and kidnapping

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

Grey’s Anatomy (Season 13, Episode 5). In this episode June is an 80 year old woman who has been waiting for 3 years for a liver transplant. Her ship has finally come in and her children and grandchildren celebrate in her hospital room. But when Chelsea, a 25 year old runner, comes into the ER suffering from heat stroke that leads to acute liver failure, an internecine conflict develops between the surgeons. According to Meredith Grey, UNOS will allow June to forgo her liver and give it to Chelsea. June is a saint who cares and gives and nurtures. But when her surgeon, Bailey, asks June what she wants to do, June says that she wants her liver and the other girl can wait. A debate among the surgeons raises the question as to whether an 80-year-old should get an organ at the expense of someone who is young and has not had a chance to build an adult life. Bailey accuses Grey and Weber of ageism. Grey considers stealing the organ when it arrives, trying to coerce the patient to change her mind, or pretending to be Bailey so she can take the organ. However, in an only for TV moment, a patient undergoing a heart procedure not only dies after his procedure, but he’s an organ donor who is a perfect match. His liver saves Chelsea. Although the debate on age in distributing organs is an important one, the deus ex machine ending undermines the notion of organs as limited resources.

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.