Greys Anatomy

Watch this clip before reading…

There is no denying the fact that Greys Anatomy has become infamous for its flair for drama and unrealistic medical emergencies. With that being said, I still love to watch it, partly for those reasons alone. Sometimes I watch it and think to myself, ‘that is completely wrong’ or ‘did they seriously just do that’. Some of the things they depict in the show end up giving people the wrong impression of medicine. For those people who do not know much about the medical field, this can be a dangerous way to obtain information.

In this particular clip, Dr. Miranda Bailey interrupts a brain surgery on a suicidal patient. The background of this storyline is that this patient has repeatedly attempted suicide while in the hospital, asking everyone to just allow him to die. Dr. Bailey is working with another patient that will die without an organ transplant. This scene shows her plea for Dr. Sheppard to stop surgery in order to let the man die and therefore, have his organs available for donation. Dr. Bailey is reminded of her oath as a physician; do no harm. She is told that to stop surgery would be the equivalent of committing murder and still, Dr. Bailey pleas for the man to die.

As Athena Du Pre (2010) reminds us, nearly 19 people a day die while waiting on a transplant list. There are many reasons why people are fearful of becoming organ donors. Among those, is the fear that doctors will not work as hard to save the life of a donor. This fear is perpetuated in the scene from Greys Anatomy. This unrealistic depiction of a medical scenario supports the belief that doctors will not be an advocate for the health of a donor if  the life of a more suitable recipient is on the line. In reality, organ donation is handled by an outside team of medical professionals and doesn’t involve the physicians treating the patient at the time (Athena Du Pre, 2010, p. 178). Another common fear about organ donation, according to Athena Du Pre, is that organs will go to unworthy recipients. This scene is meant to make you sympathize with Dr. Bailey because her patient is a child and will die without a transplant.  I wonder however, if this scene would elicit the same kinds of emotions if the recipient were older or viewed as less worthy.

The evidence of sadness on Dr. Bailey’s face confirms that she is overwhelmed with emotion about her patient and his need for an organ donation. It is common tactic when discussing organ donation to play on a person’s emotions. It is also common to highlight the benefits of saving another persons life. A great example of both can be seen HERE. This is an advertising campaign from South Africa that is meant to sway non-donors into becoming registered donors. The advertisement uses the image of a dying child to evoke an emotional response as well as sending the message that dying without donation kills more that just yourself; the same message that Dr. Bailey is trying to communicate. By evoking an emotional response, they are hoping to make people feel guilty or sad, which Athena Du Pre (2010) suggests is a negative affect appeal. Perhaps a person watching this commercial would feel guilty about not allowing a loved one become a donor when they passed. Perhaps they are made to feel sad about potentially allowing a child to die without a transplant. The video also helps to make current registered donors feel good about their choice to save a life. In their words, their death will serve a greater purpose; saving the life of another person.

I understand the message behind the advertisement however, it is not sensitive to the population of people who believe, for religious reasons or otherwise, that organ donation is not an option. By playing on the emotions of viewers, the advertisement could potentially isolate people who have an adverse stance on organ donation; equating their decision to not donate with the death of an innocent child. As Athena Du Pre (2010) points out, patients become more resistant to organ donation if they feel that they are being pressured into it. An advertising campaign that uses a negative affect appeal, such as this one, will do little to help an already pressured group of people, become donors.

This is a subject matter that is best handled with sensitivity and compassion.  As Athena Du Pre (2010) suggests, knowing a part of a loved one is ‘living on’ in some capacity is a good reason to donate.  Allowing people to see the benefits of donating while steering away from messages meant to evoke guilt or sadness is a good tactic. Please remember to watch shows like Greys Anatomy with an understanding that it is not representative of the medical field and the situations depicted are dramatized for entertainment purposes and are rarely medically accurate, as is the case with organ donation.

Until next time…



Athena du Pre. (2010). Communicating about health. New York: Oxford University Press.


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