February 4, 2011 by Amanda Zahn
We watched the House episode “Office Politics” in class today as an exercise to illustrate morals, moral agents, virtues, and values. In an effort to make sure everyone knows why my thought process might go a certain way, I’m going to copy the questions we are supposed to answer and then I will get right to the assignment.
Who are the moral agents?
What are the ethical dilemmas?
What morals, virtues, and values do you see presented, and to whom are they attributable?
Choose a character in the episode. How would you react as this character in the same situation?
Can you think of examples of when this type of situation happens in the entertainment industry?
Here we go.
Every character in House can be qualified as a moral agent. Some are, obviously, more powerful than others and anyone who has seen the show will likely disagree that House is one. The reason I include him in the blanket statement that all are moral agents is because he is capable of making choices based on right and wrong. He typically chooses shades of gray,instead of black or white, in an effort to keep the patient’s health above his own morals or ethics.
Yes, you House veterans are screaming now. I can hear it. “House has no ethics!”
That is not true, like I said. In this episode, he took the time to talk with Wilson about his dilemma (specifically: choosing to fake test results in an effort to get a certain treatment approved) and how this problem would affect his personal relationship with Cuddy. Cuddy is very protective of her hospital and works diligently to keep it from any sort of medical lawsuits, but she is willing to bend, if not break, the rules when a patient’s life is at stake.
Foreman, Taub, and Chase are, in most episodes of House, the good guys. They are the characters who help keep House in line – sometimes. They, like Cuddy, understand that the right answers is not always the moral or ethical one. In this episode, they behaved like they do in most episodes: impartial doctors with the best intentions at heart.
The new doctor, Masters, is the epitome of moral agent. The problem I find with her is also likely one of her greatest qualities: her inability to see House’s favored shades of gray. While right and wrong exist in a perfect world, it is not always easy to diagnose and save patients when giving them the true information. My best example of this is when Masters told the patient he had a choice between steroids and chemotherapy. His health depended on the chemotherapy, but he chose the steroids because they were a less scary option.
This situation reminds me of parents and children. Parents make the best decisions they can based on the safety, well-being, and health of their children. The children do not always know the whole story, or why mommy and daddy deny permission, but they will eventually understand that it is because mommy and daddy have their best intentions in their hearts.
Every episode of House is fraught with ethical dilemmas. The show would not have done so well without the push and pull of right and wrong. Save the patient? Or do what is ethically right? This specific episode opens with political slandering between opponents. I am not going to get into the ethics in politics, or the lack thereof. It would likely end with my head exploding.
Like any good episode of House, the dilemmas are laid out and very clear. More often than not, one of the characters will address the ethical wrong in a situation and this will usually result in some form of sarcasm from House. This keeps viewers watching. “This treatment has a chance to kill him.” “This cure is against his religion.” This test goes against his moral upbringing.”
What needs to get done to save his life? Ultimately, that is the right question, even if the ethical or moral right disagrees.
Masters is a walking example of morals. I seem to struggle to even begin labeling them. Her steadfast belief in right and wrong, truth, and honor blinds her to the job she has chosen, however, and she is unable to consider the best interest of the patient above her personal beliefs. Spoiler alert: she does eventually learn to bend the rules even if she never truly breaks them. That comes later in the season though.
I like talking about Foreman. He started on House as the ‘voice of reason’ in the diagnostic team. As the seasons progressed, we gradually got to see his darker side. When I say ‘darker’, I do not mean criminal, but I do mean his ability to push aside his beliefs for the benefit of the patient. He is becoming more like House with each season and his turmoil at making an unethical choice seems to decrease steadily.
Cuddy’s morals are her base in keeping the hospital free from legal action. House is a hazard to the hospital and any choice he makes, whether it saves the patient or not, has potential to be trouble for Cuddy. She maintains the balance on the scale between them with decisions that are able to allow House to work his unusual magic and keep the hospital’s interest in her mind. Her job is on the line, after all, if House fails.
Tackling this episode from the point of view of one of the characters is not an easy task. I am a House veteran and have come to know and love the characters as their lives are exposed to me. Cuddy is one of my favorite characters, however, and is forced to deal with House’s unethical decision at the end of the episode. How would I be Cuddy?
Cuddy’s choice to bring Masters into the diagnostic team stems from knowing she is a prodigy and understanding that having her in her hospital would be a benefit. Underneath the hospital director position, however, she knows that Masters might be able to bring a balance to the males on the team.
If I were faced, as Cuddy, with the choice of exposing the patient to Hepatitis A without all of the information, I would have likely reacted the same way she did: she required a positive test showing that the patient actually had Hepatitis C before allowing the extremely dangerous, and rarely successful, treatment. Cuddy does not realize until the end of the episode that House faked the test results in order to get that treatment approved, which saved the patient’s life, but it may have jeopardized her personal relationship with him.
We see ethical dilemmas in the entertainment industry on a daily basis. The problem with being so immersed in these problems is that we have gradually become desensitized to it. The politics of the larger entertainment companies might be unethical or immoral, but we have been known to look the other way if the result can be considered good or beneficial. While BP is not really in the realm of ‘entertainment’, the issues they experienced with the oil spill in April of 2010 came from poor inspections, poor conditions, and faulty emergency systems. Someone, in regards to the inspections that could have prevented this disaster, looked the other way.
Other vague examples are lying about, well, anything. All companies in the entertainment industry do it, whether to conceal something embarrassing, or to keep their fans hooked, or to shake up the opposition. Figures in entertainment, like actors, singers, and athletes are riddled with moral issues. I will bring up Lindsay Lohan, Tiger Woods, and Miley Cyrus, but am choosing to not expand on them. That would be another exploding head situation, like talking about ethics in politics.