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Hospital related tv drama shows inspire ethics lessons

It was bad enough that Seattle Grace Hospital intern Isobel "Izzie" Stevens, MD, fell in love with a patient in need of a heart transplant. But she really crossed the ethical line when she cut the wires to his left ventricular assist device so his health would deteriorate and he'd move higher on the United Network for Organ Sharing waiting list. That behavior -- portrayed by actress Katherine Heigl on the hit ABC TV medical drama "Grey's Anatomy" -- is probably the most outrageous example of scores of unethical medical actions shown on "Grey's" and Fox TV's "House," according to a study in the April Journal of Medical Ethics ( Researchers analyzed 50 episodes of the two programs and found that bioethical issues came up 179 times, with informed-consent discussions the most common. Of 49 consent talks, the study said, 57% were inadequate -- rushed, one-sided and lacking information about the down side of risky procedures. Meanwhile, the TV doctors' behavior departed from standard practice 22 times, often exposing patients to unnecessary risks or otherwise acting unethically in pursuit of good health outcomes. The study found that misbehaving physicians were rarely punished, though Heigl's Dr. Stevens did eventually lose her job. A December 2008 American Journal of Bioethics study from the same researchers found that more than 70% of medical and nursing students watch the soapy "Grey's" and detective thriller "House," with the irascible, brilliant diagnostician Gregory House, MD. "We're not really worried that doctors and medical students will watch 'House' and think it's perfectly fine to be a misanthrope who's disrespectful and rude to everybody," said study co-author Ruth Faden, PhD, MPH, director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics in Maryland. "It's more to the point that these shows are actually taking on some very challenging ethical issues ... when it's not obvious what the right course of action is." Some medical educators have reported using fictional medical shows such as "Grey's," "House" and "Scrubs" in teaching bioethics. Faden said the Berman Institute is putting together a library of show clips as part of a project to help educators interest middle school, high school and college students in discussing ethical issues. The effort is part of a broader bioethics-and-TV initiative at the institute, Faden said. Faculty meet twice a year with TV writers via teleconference to swap ideas. "They are producing entertainment content without addressing the bioethical issues head on," Faden said. "We want to see if there is a way to use the material they're already producing in a way that's useful to teachers." The full and original article can be found here:
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