When ethics is ugly

I am so tired of medical shows having brave doctors lie to the evil transplant committee that is heartlessly denying a transplant request because the patient is deemed ineligible due to some stupid technicality.  Most recently I saw this on House, where a woman destroyed her heart with bulimia, which is apparently a disqualification for transplant, but it comes up on practically every medical show eventually.  The transplant rules didn’t arise out of some Puritan sense of punishing people for their sins: it’s because eating disorders have a high relapse rate, and a relapse would destroy the new heart too.  By lying and getting her the heart, Dr. House killed whoever would have gotten the transplant instead. 

I’m sure that transplant committees make mistakes, that they’re manipulated by fame and money, and that the guidelines are imperfect.  But they’re not there to be mean, or to “punish” people for their transgressions.  They’re there because there are far fewer donor organs available than are needed, and in light of that scarcity, we want to make sure the organ goes to the person who will get the most additional life out of it.   If a patient has a condition that will lessen the use they get out of the heart, that lowers their priority for a transplant.

Maybe I’m wrong.  I don’t know what went into creating the rules, maybe they’re biased and terrible.  But if so, the appropriate reaction is to say that and fight them.  Not kill someone else because it will make you sad to tell your patient they’re going to die.

Similarly, House, stop lying to get ineligible patients into clinical trials.  You mean well, but there are two options:  the treatment doesn’t work, and you bought your patient nothing, or it does, and you just artificially worsened the numbers, potentially taking it away from everyone else who would have benefited from it.

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