Category: Ethics

The TV show House starring Hugh Laurie as Dr Gregory House which ran for eight seasons, from 2004 to 2012 is one of my favourite shows. It played a major role in my initial interest in science. Before watching the show science and medicine seemed a boring if necessary abstraction. House showed me that science and medicine are vitally important and hugely entangled with the human condition.

Watching House may be an unorthodox path towards science and the show did get a lot wrong. For a break down of every episode see this. Some have even called the show “a dismal failure in regards to medical accuracy” and have argued that it has had a net negative impact on patients seeking healthcare. Personally, I think that there are greater concerns that need to be addressed in health care so those arguments hold little water for me. In the end real life simply can’t match up to a TV show and creative liberties need to be taken. As long as House is viewed only as a TV show and not an accurate portrayal of medicine I don’t see a problem; you don’t watch Game of Thrones to see an accurate depiction of medieval life.

With that out the way, I will note that the behaviour of Dr House may best be seen as a guide to what not to do as a doctor but it makes for good TV. His behaviour is unethical, illegal, dangerous and counterproductive and in real life would lead to the loss of his medical licence and possible jail time but that’s not what this blog post is about. It’s about a more complicated question: is House a good man.

I have grappled with that question as the show did over its eight seasons and I’m still conflicted. While I totally agree that in some ways he is a terrible person I think there is more.

Although he is a rude, mean and aggressive to his patients, to their families and his coworkers I think there is still good in him. If for one moment we accept the narrative that he is a brilliant doctor then we can see why.

In the book Unaccountable by Martin Makary he writes about a (real) doctor who sounds very much like House. Makary nicknames the doctor “the Raptor” and he and House could almost be twins. Just look at some of the stuff he did:

We were constantly adding new and more unbelievable chapters of how the Raptor offended patients. Our consolation prize for being collectively victimised by him was to swap stories in our moments of downtime. One intern was shaken to hear the Raptor, through a door, bellowing at a patient, “you’re not listening to me” and “you could die!” Once, the Raptor stuck a nurse with a needle on purpose. He told her, you stick me, I stick you. Hospital legend held that he once broke the news to a family that their child did not survive by walking into the waiting room and blurting, “Guess who just died?”

The Raptor may have looked like a jock, but he was an odd character, no doubt about it. I heard he once ate food directly out of the patient’s tray without asking, like a scavenging bigfoot, the patient staring on […] Rumour had it that on a short aeroplane trip he sat on the toilet for the entire flight, just to enjoy the extra leg room.

Just like House, however, the Raptor was brilliant at his job. He was the best surgeon in the hospital and the person all the doctors would go to visit if they needed surgery.

Although patients hated his bedside manner the Raptor was “known by all the other surgeons and staff for his superhuman surgical knowledge and gifted hands” and “to this day, the Raptor routinely performs some of the greatest technical operations in the country.”

Would we say he is good? I don’t know but I do know that if a surgeon saved my life or helped me overcome illness I wouldn’t care about his bedside manner. I think the Raptors talents outweigh his terrible treatment of people. I would say he is a difficult or problematic person but I would not say he is bad or evil.

In the same way, I don’t think House is a bad person. He is an addict suffering from pain and his addiction. He is self-centred, vain and cruel at times but he isn’t all bad.

His care for Wilson, his team and even in some of his more tender moments his patients shows he has some good buried deep inside him somewhere. House is just too afraid to accept what it could mean for him if he allows himself to care so he stays fixed in his bad ways.

I think the answer to the question “is House good?” is almost impossible to answer. There are arguments both ways. I think it probably depends on how you define good. Is a good person someone who performs good deeds, someone who maximises the good or someone with good intentions. I can’t answer that for you. You need to decide.

Taking everything into account I think that although House may not be a good person per se he does perform good deeds. In my view saving a life outweighs being an asshole any day. Therefore for me, House’s good deeds outweigh the bad. Perhaps you disagree.

Note: The rest of the Buzzfeed Tyler Henry medium series will be coming soon. I’ve got caught up in another story recently.

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