Legal TV Review

I don’t watch much TV, but I will admit to enjoying “House.” “Polite Dissent,” an engaging blog by someone with medical knowledge, publishes a useful medical review of each House episode, which runs down the medicine in each show and notes the medical errors committed each week. But what House really needs is a legal review. Because really, whatever medical errors they commit, House and his team also commit almost unbelievable torts and crimes on a regular basis. 

CAUTION: Many spoilers ahead.

House and most of his team belong in jail for lengthy terms.  But it almost never seems to occur to anyone on the show that their blatantly illegal behavior might have actual consequences.

* A major theme of the show for a long time was how House and his whole team break the drug laws to get House the Vicodin he was addicted to because of pain in his leg. The possible consequences were at least explored over several episodes, but the whole team shows great disregard for drug laws.

* House routinely has his team break into his patients’ (and each others’) homes for diagnostic purposes. These crimes seem particularly bizarre since I expect most of the patients would consent to having their homes searched if told that a search is needed to help them, since almost all of them are in desperately ill condition. House seems to get a thrill out of doing things illegally even when it isn’t necessary.

* When Foreman was ill with a probably deadly disease that the team was unable to diagnose, he deliberately infected Cameron with it so that she would have an incentive to investigate in the way he thought would be helpful. Foreman was in a tough spot, but I don’t think he’d get out of a pretty serious criminal charge.  He might not have committed attempted murder (he didn’t actually intend Cameron to die), but it was a pretty serious assault or battery all the same.  And if she had died, he could certainly have been up for murder on a “depraved indifference” theory.

* On multiple occasions, House has kidnapped people in order to treat them. In yesterday’s episode, he drugs someone in his (the patient’s) own home and ties him up with duct tape. He had good motives, but you can get 50 years for that kind of thing.

* When a man with a gun takes House and numerous patients hostage to force House to diagnose him, House eventually convinces the man he has to give up the gun to get an MRI (the MRI won’t work with the metal gun inside).  But then when the MRI fails to solve the medical mystery, House gives the man back his gun so that the hostage standoff can continue long enough for House to come to a diagnosis.  I’m sorry, but at that moment House became an accomplice to kidnapping.  Another 50 years. 

* In this season’s opener, House spirits a mental patient away from the institution in which he is staying and feeds his perception that he is able to fly. The patient then jumps out of a building and is severely injured and perhaps permanently crippled. Even if this one wasn’t necessarily another kidnapping, it’s amazing that no one says to House, “wow, are you ever going to get sued.” 

*Foreman, temporarily put in charge of the diagnostic team because House has temporarily lost his medical license (not for any of the above crimes!), fires his girlfriend Thirteen from the team because he feels that having her work for him, instead of with him, will be damaging to their romantic relationship.  Ding ding ding!  Can anyone say “Title VII violation”? 

* Finally, in yesterday’s episode, Chase deliberately and with clear malice aforethought produces a fake blood test so that a patient will be treated for the wrong disease and will die, because Chase thinks that will be best for the public good (the patient is a dictator who, Chase believes, is going to commit genocide on a segment of his own population, even though the patient claims he’s taking necessary action to protect his nation’s security from internal enemies).  Putting aside the question of whether Chase’s amateur diplomacy is likely to help (Chase has very limited knowledge of the actual situation in the dictator’s country, and who knows what would really happen after the dictator’s death — it might lead to peace or it might lead to even more bloodshed than if the dictator carried out his plans), it’s as clear-cut a murder as one might desire.  Foreman then becomes Chase’s accomplice by destroying evidence.

Based on the preview for next week, it looks like the show is at least going to have a little exploration of the question of what should happen when one of the team commits a murder.  Well, good for them, because most of the time the characters seem to live in a law-free bubble, in which they get to do anything and everything without legal consequences.

Some doctors don’t like House because they don’t like the way the show glorifies “disruptive physicians.”  They claim it’s unrealistic in that regard.  What really seems unrealistic to me is the way the characters commit constant crimes and torts and nothing comes of it.  The show obviously has some doctors consulting on the scripts — couldn’t they hire at least one lawyer (sheesh, I’m available) to give basic advice so that the show is not so legally absurd?

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6 Responses

  1. J.A. Bohrer says:

    You are quite correct in your analysis. However, real medicine like real law, makes for some pretty average drama.

  2. Bruce Boyden says:

    I quit watching in the first season because of the repeated and serious ethics violations — mostly lack of informed consent, or really any consent whatsoever.

  3. In Chase’s defence, the episode did make clear that, in the wake of the Bashir-character’s death, moderates had taken over the government…

  4. Len Rotman says:

    Jon,

    There is one possible answer that you did not consider — that the producer/writers are lawyers and are deliberately portraying events in this manner with complete knowledge of the problematic aspects you identify (in order to generate precisely the discussion that you are engaging in). Supporting this hypothesis is the fact that David Shore, the creator/producer/writer of House, is a law graduate from the University of Toronto.

    For more info., see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Shore

    Happy watching,

    Len

  5. Jon Siegel says:

    Len, I think that’s right as to the latest murder. I don’t think it applies so much to the assaults, kidnappings, torts, and Title VII violations. I think those were just plot-driven devices thrown in without regard to legal impact.

  6. ricey says:

    awwww. please don’t spoil the fun.