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The episode that I have chosen to write about is Grey’s anatomy, episode 25 of season 2. I chose this episode because it has many different ethical issues that are presented within a single episode. The main issue that I will focus on is the heart transplant for Denny, and the decisions that were made by Izzie and other people in relation to the heart transplant. The issue will be analyzed from several different ethical perspectives.
The issue in question involves a heart transplant. Izzie’s significant other (Denny) is on a waiting list for a heart transplant. He has been on the waiting list for over a year and a half. In the episode, he is called in to receive a heart transplant. However, the doctors discover that the heart of the person they were going to take it from is no longer functional. As a result, Denny would not be given any transplant. In a different hospital, a separate patient is next up on the heart transplant list (above Denny), and as such, is entitled to receive the next heart, which is from someone that is about to be operated on in the episode. Izzie decides to try to move Denny above the other patient by lying about Denny’s condition. She attempts to make his condition seem worse than it actually is so that he will be given a priority on the heart transplant list. In addition to lying about his condition, she also makes the decision to intentionally stop his heart in order to fool the other doctors into thinking that he is in more need of the heart transplant than the other patient. The episode ends with her cutting the tube to his heart-assistance device. Several important ethical questions are related to the issue with the heart transplant and the two different potential receivers.
The scenario in the episode raises a number of different ethical questions. The first perspective to be analyzed is the utilitarian perspective. Utilitarianism is an ethical philosophy that is based on producing the greatest overall level of pleasure or happiness for the greatest number of people, and also about minimizing pain for the largest number of people (Harsanyi, 1978). The heart transplant situation is difficult to examine from a utilitarian perspective. It would likely depend on the number of family and friends that each heart transplant patient had. Since the episode shows Izzie being in love with Denny, it seems that her decision could be justified through a utilitarian perspective if no other information about the other heart transplant patient is present. It is possible that the situation would be different if the other patient was also in love and had a caring family that would be devastated if the patient did not get a new heart.
The second ethical theory is based on Kant’s philosophy regarding ethics. Kant’s principles are different from utilitarianism in that they do not measure the rightness or wrongness of actions based on outcomes. Instead, Kant’s ethical theory is based on whether or not an individual fulfills their moral duty (Nell, 1978). The situation in the Grey’s Anatomy episode is much easier to analyze from a Kantian perspective. Izzie has the moral duty to save patients and to act honestly. She violates both of those duties when she decides to lie in order to save a patient that she personally cares about, at the expense of another patient that was actually more in need of the heart transplant. Izzie’s actions would be highly unethical from a Kantian perspective.
In my own personal opinion, I think that Izzie’s words and actions were unethical. Although they could theoretically be defended from a utilitarian standpoint, they cannot be justified by most other ethical theories. She is choosing to play favorites and save one life of someone she loves at the expense of someone else who is actually more in need of the heart transplant. It is possible that Denny could have waited and gotten a different heart in a few months. The other patient may die as a direct result of Izzie’s choices.
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