Ethics and House, MD

I’ve been laying low lately and working on a long piece about the Ethics of Dr. Gregory House.  It’s become one of the most complex projects I’ve undertaken, but enlightening and quite fun.

Part One is up at Blogcritics, here

Here’s the beginning….

In the House, MD season three episode “Son of Coma Guy,” House’s patient, Gabe Wozniak, ask him what last words he’d like to hear from his own father. House hesitates, but answers honestly, “I’d like him to tell me that I was right; that I did the right thing.” What does it mean, to do the “right thing?” It sounds lofty and idealistic — and completely unlike what most people (think they) know of Dr. House.

Within the universe of House, MD, Dr. Gregory House (portrayed by Hugh Laurie in a consistently complex, and often brave, performance) is widely perceived by most of his colleagues (even those who respect him) to lack any sense of ethics. He’s bigoted, he doesn’t care about patients — often, he doesn’t even know their names! He’s blunt and overly harsh, refusing to suffer fools (or idiots or morons) gladly (or at all). On more than one occasion, both dean of medicine Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) and House’s best friend James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) have wondered aloud if House has “even read an ethical guideline.” He’s been called many things, from “lucky” to “reckless,” “arrogant” and “preening” to “smug” and “needy.”

But House also has a reputation for integrity, according to one of his archest enemies, Edward Vogler (season one). He’s renowned as a physician and people come from far and wide (and even Cuba) to tap into his medical expertise.

Admittedly, House has done some things to warrant the less celebrated aspects of his reputation. His colleagues, hospital lawyers, and even some patients must sometimes wonder if House operates under any sort of ethical framework at all. After all, House has afflicted a coma patient with a migraine to test the efficacy of an anti-migraine drug; he has ventured into the morgue and shot a dead person in the head to perform an MRI (performing it on a live patient would have been quite deadly — and the dead guy had, explained House, donated his body to science). He has performed one physician-assisted suicide (but refused to do another, even though everyone from Wilson to his team were pushing him to do it). He has lied to the transplant committee to avoid condemning a patient to certain death, and he provoked any number of patients into physically attacking him (albeit all for a greater medical good).

“You are aware of the Hippocratic oath, right?” asks Dr. Eric Foreman in the first season episode “Damned if you Do.”



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