English 1102: Television and Feminism

Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Tag: #ethics

Can Grey’s Anatomy change a doctor’s moral code?

In season 2 of Grey’s Anatomy, one of the main plot lines is Izzie’s affair with a patient, Danny, awaiting a heart transplant. Danny, however, is near the bottom of the transplant list. This, compounded with the fact that a heart viable for transplant is not easily come by, means that Danny will, or will not for a long time, receive a heart.

Izzie and Danny together before he dies of a stroke.

Izzie decides to take matters into her own hands and cuts a cord in his heart, pushing him to the top of the list. This (incredibly illegal) plan does work, and he does get a new heart, but Danny has a stroke soon after and dies.Izzie is inevitably found out and then suspended for a short time.

The main issue arises from the punishment, or lack of punishment, that Izzie receives. In a real-world situation, Izzie would have been fired and probably not allowed into an OR again, or at least not for many years.

I completely understand that the point of Grey’s Anatomy is not to be extremely accurate or to be a medical ethics handbook. Despite the show being a drama and not meant to be taken seriously, this does not belay the point that TV has a great influence on the ideology and knowledge base of its viewers. Could medical drama shows actually affect the actions of real medical students and personnel?

In fact, there has been research done on whether or not medical dramas can affect how medical students/professionals treat their careers. According to an Australian study, viewers of shows such as Grey’s Anatomy have a perception of separation between doctors and their work. While this does not conclusively prove that medical dramas would cause a medical professional to treat their job with less care or to ignore the codes of conduct, it does provide context and a solid reason to look further into the effects.

In my opinion, someone who is smart enough and determined enough to pursue a career in healthcare shouldn’t be influenced by a show with a fake hospital and fake drama and fake doctors. Maybe a child or a very impressionable individual would  change their views on ethical questions by watching a TV show, but Grey’s Anatomy, in particular, is geared towards adults who should already be set in their view. Hopefully no one watched season 2 of Grey’s Anatomy, and then decided to cut the heart strings of their fiancé…

Weaver, R., Wilson, I., & Langendyk, V. (2014). Medical professionalism on television: Student perceptions and pedagogical implications. Health, 18(6), 597-612. doi:10.1177/1363459314524804

Decisions… Decisions in Grey’s Anatomy

Every episode of Grey’s Anatomy shares a common thread that ties the whole episode together. In some specific episodes, however, the commonality is a theme or concept usually concerning debates within the medical world. Episode 4 “Save Me” really delves into the foggy part of the medicine as it concerns ethics and a patient’s choice.

Doctors and surgeons are tasked with helping the sick to the best of their ability and to “do no harm” according to the Hippocratic Oath. Then comes the question of whether a medical professional should perform a procedure that might do harm, if that is the patient’s choice.

Ultimately, the patient has the last word.

The topic of abortion is one of the most common dividing arguments. On one hand there is the health of the mother especially if the birth is going to have complications, but also, there’s an unborn life that can’t speak for itself. As Cristina meets a woman who wants to keep her baby even though it will kill her, she can’t understand this mentality as she is trying to save lives. In another situation, Alex, another intern, is tasked with helping a girl who needs a heart valve replacement. However, due to her religion, she won’t let them put a pig’s valve inside her.

Throughout the episode, the interns and patients go back and forth. The interns know that at the end of the day, decisions are ultimately up to the patient, yet this doesn’t stop them from wanting to convince the other party to save themselves. In both the situation of the abortion and the heart valve, both patients inevitably concluded to have treatment (though the girl settled on a cow heart valve).

To me, this episode showed more clearly than any other, the stance of the show’s writers. “Save Me” is saying that doctor must respect their patients wishes, but that the best treatment plan is the one that will elongate someone’s life, and that these kinds of decisions shouldn’t be based on morality or religious views. This kind of conversation is really big in the medical world and political world at the moment with things like STEM cell research, assisted suicide and abortion. Even for a medical show, that’s a really heavy theme to put into a 45-minute episode.

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