Monday, October 5, 2009

The Saving Hitler Quandary on House 6.3

A classic ethical quandary for doctors is: If you were able to go back in time, and found Hitler suffering from an illness that could be fatal, would you save him, as your profession's ethics require, or let him die, as an ethics geared to the general good of humanity suggests. This could apply to firefighters, police, or anyone able to intervene in a life-and-death situation. There is no easy answer, since either choice violates a profound set of ethics.

And that's why it made for such good, important television tonight on House 6.3, as the team - now Foreman in charge, with Cameron and Chase on board, and House on hand in an advisory capacity - gets to treat a genocidal African dictator, President Dibala, played by James Earl Jones.

Cameron's initial take is that Dibala doesn't deserve to be saved. Chase thinks they have no choice but to save him, and in fact shouts out to deflect a human assassin. (I'm reminded of William McNeill's Plagues and Peoples, and its view that humans are beset by two kinds of assaults, microbial and by other people.) But before the episode is over, Chase will reverse positions with Cameron, and fake a diagnosis with blood from another patient - deceased - to get Foreman to go with the wrong treatment, which results in Dibala's death.

Foreman plays a crucial role in this, which tells us a lot about his innermost workings, and how they can be influenced. He's feeling guilty and defensive about firing 13. Cameron plays on this - telling Foreman he's being defensive about the treatment he's ordering - when Foreman objects to the fake diagnosis provided by Chase. Foreman says that despite the new (faked) evidence - which he doesn't know to be faked - the general pattern still supports Foreman's original diagnosis. This of course proves to be correct, but Cameron is able to guilt Foreman to move away from it.

We'll likely learn what happens to Chase next week. Tonight Foreman figures out what Chase did, who informs him that Cameron had nothing to do with the false diagnosis. Is he covering for his wife?

We also learn a little tonight about one of the most wrenching dilemmas possible, served up in inimitable House style. Foreman reminds Chase in their last scene that taking anyone's life, even a monster's, diminishes your own. Would you save Hitler under these circumstances? What about Dibala?

8-min podcast review of Mad Men

See also House Reborn in Season Six? ... 6.2: The Gang is Back and Fractured

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