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Conflict of Interest(s) at Seattle Grace Hospital

Grey’s Anatomy has been one of my favorite shows since its debut in 2005.  Okay, I’ll admit, part of me watches the show only to stare at McDreamy’s hair or McSteamy’s washboard abs, but the other part of me thoroughly enjoys the ethical dilemmas that the cast faces each episode. For those of you who are not familiar with the show, I’ll catch you up with some brief background:

Grey’s Anatomy (no, not Gray’s Anatomy, the book) is a medical drama television show created by Shonda Rhimes, who also created the spinoff called Private Practice. Grey’s Anatomy takes place in Seattle, Washington and follows the lives of several interns, residents, and patients as they attempt to balance their medical careers with their personal lives — something that is not always easy. Inappropriate relationships, breaches in patient confidentiality, and intense conflicts of interest are not uncommon at Seattle Grace Hospital.  The doctors continually face moral dilemmas and are at constant war with each other about what the “right” thing to do is.

One of the main characters, Meredith Grey, is known for making reckless decisions.  Although these decisions are usually viewed as the unethical, it’s sometimes hard to completely disagree with her actions.  For example, in season seven, Meredith tampers with Dr. Shepherd’s Alzheimer’s trial by switching the paperwork so that the Chief’s wife Adele Webber will receive the Alzheimer drug that Dr. Shepherd is administering to several patients. Adele’s condition seemed to be deteriorating quickly, and since the Chief has acted as a father figure throughout the years, Meredith figured she would help him out.  After all, Meredith’s mother passed away from Alzheimer’s, so she experienced first hand how devastating the disease can be.  Did Meredith do the wrong thing?

Of course Meredith didn’t do the “right” thing.  But on the other hand, part of me was rooting for her as I sat and watched the episode, hoping she would go through with it despite how risky it was. Nevertheless, looking back on her action today, I can say with complete confidence that she did the wrong thing.  The whole point of clinical trials are that they are designed and conducted with great care to ensure valid results that are free of bias. Proper randomization of patients and making sure they don’t know if they are administered the trial drug or the placebo are crucial to preventing bias.  Although Meredith was trying to help a friend, if we all tried to help a friend in this kind of matter, chaos would ensue.

I’m not sure that this story directly relates to any of the material we’ve read for class, but it is a good reminder that acting ethically and doing the right thing is imperative.  I suppose it kind of reminds me of the Enron case where the company started to cut corners and not follow the rules, ultimately leading to Enron’s collapse.  Hypothetically of course, if Seattle Grace Hospital always cut corners, it would most likely have some sort of collapse itself.

Long story short: as much as you sometimes want to help out a friend, its costs might not outweigh its benefits.  You might actually be hurting more people than helping.  If we expect others to act ethically, we must do the same.



6 thoughts on “Conflict of Interest(s) at Seattle Grace Hospital

  1. I definitely used to watch Grey’s anatomy for the same reasons–more for McSteamy though. I think that you are right about Meredith being fairly reckless and in a way it seems that this could relate to some of the theories studied in our class. For example, should Doctors take for of a deontological or consequentialist stance? It seems that Meredith takes more of a consequentialist stance. She looks at what might have the best outcome, basing her conclusions off of her own experience, and proceeds with various procedures–even if it is not ethically okay in terms of a doctor’s duty.

    Posted by Catherine Gibbons | March 6, 2012, 4:34 pm
  2. Jenna, what was the outcome of the episode? Did she end up giving her the drug? Did it work? Just wondering…

    I don’t really watch the show, but I probably would have been rooting for her to do the same thing, because it makes TV interesting. Looking at it in real life, however, I would never root for anyone to do that. It is so extremely risky. I’m glad you brought up doctors in this week’s blog because it is clear that they face many ethical decisions on a daily basis that are much more serious than anything I would be faced with. It is interesting how much more debatable ethical decisions are when a person’s life is in question.

    Posted by alyssakinell | March 6, 2012, 5:43 pm
  3. I used to watch this show almost every week but after the third season I lost interest. This type of ethical dilema appears to be a commmon occurance in the medical field. This episode reminds me of the drug story that is referrenced in “Managing Business Ethics” that we read the first week of class. So, maybe a question to ask could be, “Were Merideth’s actions considered ethical using the consequencialist theory?”

    Posted by Amanda Skonezney | March 6, 2012, 8:59 pm
  4. I think in dealing with medicine and health, there are a lot of emotions surrounding decisions. Keeping this in mind, it seems that doctors should use more of a consequentialist approach when making decisions rather than purely deontological. Medical personel should weigh different stakes and look at how particular outcomes will affect people in different ways rather than sticking purely to the rules. But I can also see where rules are necessary so it’s a tough dilemma.

    Posted by Lauren Daley | March 7, 2012, 1:24 am
  5. Glad that someone posted about Grey’s Anatomy as it is one of my favorites! I think it’s interesting to look at the separation thesis in regard to this dilemma. In a way, Meredith separated her decision to tamper with the trial with the ethics of the hospital. However, she did not separate her decision from ethics as a whole, as she was driven by a more personal ethical code because of her fatherly relationship with the Chief. It is hard to determine which is more important – the ethics of the hospital or one’s own personal morals – particularly if they are in opposition to one another.

    Posted by Beth O'Brien | March 7, 2012, 12:43 pm
  6. I think doctors are constantly facing tough decisions everyday, and sometimes it’s hard to always make the best decision. After all, these doctors are working really long hours and sometimes I think their decisions can be clouded by lack of sleep.

    Alyssa, she did switch the drug but the whole trial got messed with because another character told the Chief that the trial had been tampered with. The Chief reported Meredith, even though she was trying to help his wife. Meredith almost lost her job but of course didn’t because she’s the main character — what would the show do without her?!

    Posted by Jenna | March 7, 2012, 4:33 pm

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Blog 5 before session 6 What (interest) or Who (person) Inspires You? For this week’s prompt, the Blog Council wants you to examine how this class relates to your own interests. So, please write about how this class relates to some of your own intellectual or other learning interests. We are NOT interested in how it relates to a specific career goal. Plan B: same idea, but based on a person. See whole post for details.

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