Last week’s episode of the TV show “House” explored a moral dilemma which, if it actually occurred, would affect hundreds of thousands of people. (watch the episode for free here).
A generic African dictator has had a medical emergency while at the U.N. building in NYC. Upon arriving at the hospital, Dr. House and the team are assigned to heal him. It became very apparent to me that the dictator is clearly based on Omar al-Bashir, current President of Sudan, and the man responsible for over 300,000 deaths by genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. In the episode, the fiercely ethical Australian doctor, Chase, realizes that if he “accidentally” gives the Dictator the wrong medication or screws up a treatment, he can kill the man and possibly save thousands of lives.
The moral dilemma, of course, is that to murder a patient is to completely contradict everything a doctor stands for. Indeed, the Hippocratic Oath would have us believe that a doctor’s first priority is always to cure the patient, regardless of circumstances. Even during wars, physicians often provide treatment to captured enemy soldiers, despite the chance that the enemy may escape or be freed and fight again. I admit, this situation is exceptional. No less than 300,000 people have died in the Darfur conflict in the past 5 years, and millions died before that in Sudan’s Civil War, all under al-Bashir’s watch. If murdering him on the operating table can save another 300,000 lives, or even just another 1,000, is it not justified?
SPOILER: Chase struggles with this throughout the episode, and finally administers the wrong drugs to the dictator, killing him. In the following week’s episode he spirals into a mental wreck, realizing that what he thought was a morally justifiable decision is now haunting him. How can he take himself seriously as a doctor now that he has murdered a patient, someone who trusted Chase with his life? What would you do?
Great news! Obama FINALLY announced yesterday his new plan for dealing with Sudan and real life al-Bashir: diplomatic engagement, setting benchmarks, and using economic and political incentives and punishments to achieve them. This could even include dropping the U.S.’s sanctions on Sudan, if they are serious about making changes. This is not a big policy departure from Bush’s administration, but THE GOOD THING is now that the Administration has a policy, they can roll up their sleeves and get to it! While the particulars of the policy are important, what is most vital is the political will. If the Administration REALLY works on this issue, they will inevitably see progress. If they play like the Bush Administration, who had other priorities, we will cause no improvement.
But don’t take my word for it. There’s lots of bloggers all over the issue right now – many very critical of Obama’s lack of more concrete action. Admit it: There is this little, nagging, vigilante in all of us that wishes Obama would just send Dr. Chase over to “heal” al-Bashir when he gets sick. But the CIA doesnt’ do assassinations anymore.
The important thing is, will things be better a year from now?