Monday, March 26, 2007

Grey's Anatomy: Showing the world the need for clinical ethicists one episode at a time

Kelly Hills (a/k/a Buddhist Valkyrie) had this quote on one of her emails and I thought I had to share this with our readers -- I love watching Grey's Anatomy and House, MD, but I have to admit that the lack of consideration of ethics in both shows make me cringe -- In fact, I was telling one of my colleagues that watching House, MD is a bit like rubbernecking a car crash scene -- it's awful, but you can't look away. I play clips to my students to portray how NOT to handle certain situations.

Still, I wonder when either of these shows will get around to hiring a gorgeous actor or actress to play the first TV bioethicist -- hmm, since they're running out of rhymes for McSteamy or McDreamy, they'll have to think of something McEthical? Or maybe it'll be on the Grey's Anatomy spinoff with Kate Walsh.

But seriously, (yes, SERIOUSLY), if you're interested in media/television and their responsibility to portray medicine/ethics properly (or their utter lack of doing so), you might be interested in the following call for papers:

Blackwell Publishing Call for Abstracts
House M.D. and Philosophy
Please circulate and post widely (apologies for cross-posting)

Henry Jacoby, Editor
William Irwin, Series Editor

The Blackwell Philosophy and PopCulture Series

To propose ideas for future volumes in the Blackwell series please
contact William Irwin,

Abstracts and subsequent essays should be philosophically substantial
but accessible, written to engage the intelligent lay reader.
Contributors of accepted essays will receive an honorarium.

Possible themes and topics might include, but are not limited to, the

House's critical thinking skills (the use of Mill's Methods, Ockham's
Razor, Inference to the Best Explanation, and the Scientific Method)
Pessimism: House and Schopenhauer
House and Addiction; House as Cynic
House and Sartre: Hell is Other People
"Everybody Lies": House on Human Nature
House and Nietzsche
"I Like My Theory Better": the Logic of the Guess (Abductive Reasoning)
House's Ethical Egoism
Appearance and Reality: Is House Dreaming his Recovery?: Mind-Body
Interaction in Patient Care
House on Religion (the irrationality of faith, the virtues of science
over religion, and the comfort of having no afterlife)
Race and Gender on House
Dialogue: Why does House Need his Team? (The logic of question and answer)
Paternalism and Patient Autonomy (Is it permissible to lie to the
patient, other doctors, hospital administrators) for the patient's own
The ethics and expectations of privacy for patients
The ethics of allocating scarce medical resources
The Nature of Friendship on House
What makes House a Genius?
Personal Identity: Would a pain-free House still be House? Creativity
and Catalyzing Creative Problem Solving
Why Being Nice is Overrated: House's Moral Virtues
Is there a place for a maverick in collaborative hospital care?

Contributor guidelines:

1. Abstract of paper (100-500 words).

2. CV or resume for each author and co-author.

3. Submission deadline for abstracts: April 10, 2007

4. Submission deadline for first drafts of accepted papers
(tentative): August 3, 2007

5. Submission deadline for final papers October 22, 2007.

6. Abstracts should be submitted by e-mail, with or without Word attachment.

Send by e-mail to:Henry Jacoby,


BuddhistValkyrie said...


Watching Grey's Anatomy was a guilty pleasure that got turned into academia, for me, when I was asked to do weekly blog round-ups of the show, specifically focusing on it's (lack of) medical/clinical ethics. Or really, any ethics. (I was paired with an epidemiologist, who could talk more about the medicine.)

The interesting thing is, I've talked with the head MD on the show, and about how the episodes are passed "for medical accuracy" through several internal and external medical experts - but never an ethicist of any stripe.

(The quote itself is taken from a conversation I was having with another friend who watches the show - I was explaining why I like the show; after all, if you can't be a good example, you can be a horrible warning. Grey's is a wonderful, horrible warning...)

Emilie Clemmens said...

I don't watch Grey's but I loooove House, and one of the reasons I watch it is that it DOES bring up ethics so often. Seems like every episode involves medical ethics decisions. They really seem to highlight this, in my opinion. Now, how they choose to handle the ethical dilemmas...well, that may be a cry to add a sexy starlet ethicist or whatever to the cast, but on the other hand, I think it's intriguing in itself how each cast member brings something different to the discussion.

Alexandra said...

I think what bothers me isn't the lack of bioethicists on House (they do occasionally bring in a hospital lawyer), but the fact that the blatant disregard for the ethical issues always end up in House's favor. The patient lives, House was right, who cares that he used a drug that was wasn't approved for human use and gave it to a comatose patient without consent.

BuddhistValkyrie said...

Yeah, but often the hospital lawyers are worse than the doctors!

I've opted to see House, as a whole, as an argument against evidence-based medicine. That there needs to be artistry and intuition along with evidence, and that they make their argument by going as overboard on artistry and intuition as many evidence-based doc's do on evidence. (And for better or worse, I think a lot of bioethicists get drawn into a trapped by evidence-based practices, which isn't necessarily the most pragmatic of behaviours.)

Hmm. I smell a paper...