Do medical television shows owe us a correct diagnosis and treatment of the ill and infirm — or does anything go as entertainment in the unwinding drama?


The season ending episode of Grey’s Anatomy raised the unwanted, but inevitable, question of authenticity in the television medical drama:

The cliffhanger ending on Thursday’s season finale of Grey’s Anatomy left fans worrying that one of the show’s main characters, surgeon Isobel “Izzie” Stevens, had died after having surgery to remove a brain tumor. Yet some doctors and cancer survivors say they’re more worried that the popular ABC series has been dispensing inaccurate information about treatment options.

The two-hour broadcast depicted Izzie and her fellow doctors agonizing over how to treat her melanoma — a deadly form of skin cancer — that had spread to her liver, bowel and brain. Because of the location of her brain tumor, doctors presented her with two unattractive options: surgery that could leave her with severe memory problems or a highly toxic drug called interleukin-2, or IL-2.

In fact, doctors never recommend IL-2 for melanoma that has spread to the brain because it can cause bleeding and strokes, says Otis Brawley, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society. If doctors are concerned about the risks of surgery, they recommend radiosurgery, in which doctors focus intensive radiation on the tumor, he says.

This sort of questioning of the authenticity of the medical drama is just the sort of authority checking we need in the public square.

Too often we tend — as a Zombie Nation of television watchers — to accept at face value what we see.

We abandon our critical thinking and our logical analysis the moment we pick up the television remote and that leads us down the pathway of fantasy pretending to be reality even as we willingly suspend our disbelief in the want for cathartic television entertainment.

4 Comments

  1. Okay, this is how it happened. Elizabeth and I were watching The Soup. We have never watched Grey’s Anatomy because there are only so many shows a person can reasonably watch. They said that they had a hilarious clip from Grey’s Anatomy to show involving Sandra Oh. She and a fellow doctor are walking outside when she takes a spill on the ice. They decide to take that moment to have an interesting conversation. Suddenly, they notice an icicle from the roof loosening and watch as it falls from the roof and pierces Sandra Oh’s torso.
    Where to start? First of all, when you fall on the ice, GET UP. Don’t just lay under an icicle waiting for it to start. The delay between their noticing the icicle and the icicle falling is more than enough time to get out of the way.
    I have been told by a few reliable sources that the drama on the show is pretty interesting but I don’t want to watch a show about fake medicine. They may as well hand out cancer curing chewing gum and fix bones with a special soft drink.

  2. Love it, Gordon, thanks! That’s sort of hilarious about the ice! I’m sure that wasn’t the original intent of Grey’s. I’ve never watched the show just for the reasons you name. I wonder which medical drama show was the most realistic? Probably not “House.”

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