Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

What's on TV Tonight? Let's Watch the Ethics Committee Meeting

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

What's on TV Tonight? Let's Watch the Ethics Committee Meeting

Article excerpt

Life-and-death situations are a mainstay of television drama, but the camera seldom pans away from the operating room or the ICU. In a recent episode of "In the Heat of the Night," the popular television crime show, the hospital ethics committee--heretofore known mainly to insiders--moved from the sober pages of bioethics journals to prime time.

Rebecca Ballard plots with her lover, Brian Moss, to kill her husband Peter for his million-dollar insurance policy. But the explosion rigged by Brian fails, and Peter winds up in the local hospital on life supports.

Enter the hospital ethics committee. In a scene set at detective Virgil Tibbs's dinner table, Althea--Virgil's wise and beautiful wife--discusses a request that she serve on the hospital ethics committee as a community representative. Virgil doesn't like the idea of Althea getting involved in life-and-death decisions, but is reminded that these issues shouldn't be reserved only for men. Asserting her independence, Althea indicates that she will agree to serve.

Just in time, Rebecca is called before the committee (composed of two doctors and Althea). Althea tells her that Peter will die if the machines are turned off. Then she asks Rebecca if she wants Peter kept alive at all costs. Presented with this choice, Rebecca has to conceal her real feelings. She asks that everything be done to keep him alive.

One of the doctors then asks Rebecca if Peter has a life-insurance policy. Surprised, Rebecca answers that he does. …

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