Private Practice: Acting ethically at the Wellness Center?

July 1, 2009

(Warning – contains plot spoilers!) Private Practice is a spin-off from Seattle hospital drama Grey’s Anatomy in which Dr Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh) moves from Seattle Grace to join the staff of the Ocean Wellness Center in Los Angeles.

I have to admit that I tired of Grey’s Anatomy during Season 1 and although I was aware it has spawned another series I had no desire to watch. All this changed, however, following an excellent talk on the programme, given by Dublin Doctor Audrey Dillon at the 4th Postgraduate Bioethics Conference (Belfast, June 2009).

The writers of Private Practice, headed by Shonda Rhimes, have made a conscious decision to incorporate ethical issues into the storylines (see ‘Private Practice’ explores bioethics questions). This means, therefore, that the series may well throw up some interesting case studies as discussion starters.

At the time of writing, Living TV (UK) has just started transmission of Season 2 (see here for Episode guide). A Family Thing, the first programme of the series, was aired on 25th June 2009 (TRILT code 00FC042B). True to promise, it contained two subplots featuring ethical dilemmas.

Saviour siblings – a donor by design?

In the first (starting 7 minutes in), Molly and Eric Madison present at the clinic demanding that the staff deliver their baby daughter that day, despite the fact that she is only 27 weeks gestation. The girl, it transpires, has been conceived following Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis, to be a ‘saviour sibling’ for her older brother, Jason.  The boy has leukaemia and has had his own bone marrow wiped out in preparation for a transplant from a donor who has now fallen unwell with pneumonia. He is therefore immunocompromised and urgently needs umbilical stem cells courtesy of the new child.

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Fighting Talk (Doctors) – a duty to disclose?

July 24, 2008

(Warning: contains plot spoilers!) This is an old episode of the BBC’s daytime drama Doctors, centred on the Mill Health Centre, a fictional midlands clinic. The relevance is probably limited to clinical ethics training for medical students, but it’s great for that purpose so worthy of a quick note here.

In Fighting Talk (TRILT ID: 0059FD65, first broadcast on BBC1, 15th June 2006), Dr Greg Robinson is faced with a dilemma when local bully Darren Waters has beaten up geeky pupil Kevin Dobson on his way to school. What Darren doesn’t realise is that Kevin is HIV positive. When Darren presents at the clinic with a bleeding hand and then Kevin later comes in with cuts to his face, Dr Robinson realises there is a risk that the virus has been transferred from victim to bully. Does he have a duty to disclose the details to Darren and his family?

In truth, the episode is entirely focussed on this story, punctuated with snippets of longer term issues for those who work at the Mill Health Centre. One short section, however, conveys all that needs to be told as a case study for tutorial group discussion. In the section starting at 16:23 Dr Robinson visits Kevin and his mother trying to persuade them to let him tell Darren. Kevin’s HIV status is mentioned openly, it had only been hinted at in early clips. The scene runs onto 19:17, but is best stopped at 17:50 when Kevin’s mum puts her hand on his shoulder – the rest of the clip is window dressing.

For completeness, the clips in which the story unfolds are: 02:00-02:58 (the fight), 03:40-05:03 (mum patches Kevin up), 07:52-10:00 (bully goes to GP), 10:26-12:40 (Kevin goes to GP), 12:40-13:37 (Dr Robinson discusses what to do with colleague), 14:10-15:55 (Doctor visits Dobson family), 16:23-19:17 (HIV status discussed), 20:11-20:50 (Doctors discuss ethical duty), 20:50-21:10 (Kevin visits clinic to give consent), 21:37-23:38 (Dr Robinson tries to get Kevin’s mum to agree), 24:22-26:12 (Kevin persuades his mum).