House – Informed Consent (3/24) Thursday 5 April: 21.00–22.00
Hugh Laurie returns as the curmudgeonly medic in the third season of the acclaimed hospital drama. This week’s episode sees House and his team wrestle with an ethical dilemma when an elderly patient demands that they stop treating him and help him to die.
After collapsing in his lab, 71-year-old Ezra Powell, a renowned cancer research specialist, is brought into the hospital for treatment. Initial examination shows that he has fluid in his lungs, but after a series of painful tests, Powell pleads with House’s team to let him die.
The plea plunges the team into an ethical debate. Chase believes they should respect the patient’s wishes, while Foreman and Cameron are opposed. House, meanwhile, is more interested in finding a cure. When Cameron argues that no treatment will work if Powell is determined to end his life, House’s response is flippant: “Come on, he’s old and sick and tiny – we can do whatever we like to him!”
House strikes a deal with Powell to help him die if they cannot find a solution in the next 24 hours. The deadline passes and Powell remains resolute, despite House’s insistence that his case may not be terminal. Pressed to fulfil the bargain, House enters Powell’s room with a syringe full of morphine, growling to his team: “Everybody who can walk should get out of here.” Foreman and Cameron leave, while Chase stands by his boss as he administers the deadly dose.
But to Chase’s surprise, House quickly puts Powell on a ventilator, having induced a coma. With the patient now unconscious, House argues, they can test him to their hearts’ content without his ‘whining’ getting in the way. House is typically unapologetic about his lie: “Bad, I know,” he says, “but it’s way further down the list than murder.”
Cameron is especially shocked and refuses to take any more part in proceedings, arguing that the patient should have some say in his treatment. House, however, is scornful: “You either help him live or you help him die. You can’t have it both ways!” he cries. Stuck on the sidelines, Cameron is directed by House to look into Powell’s research, and is horrified to learn that he used dangerous methods on infants without their parents’ consent.
Meanwhile, further tests suggest that Powell may be suffering from an autoimmune disease. House then notices that parts of Powell’s body are not responding to pain. Unfortunately, the only way to get a conclusive result is to wake him up again.
Conscious once more, Powell is scathing about House’s failure to keep his promise. House, however, is more concerned with obtaining a skin sample from his patient to diagnose his condition – and turns to Cameron to get it. Tired of her agonising over the case, House orders her to get a ‘pound of flesh’ from Powell: “Do your damn job!” he barks.
Cameron duly goes to see the patient, and cannot resist confronting him about his work. Powell is defiant, arguing that informed consent and patients’ rights get in the way of research. Cameron’s response is to slice a piece of skin from Powell’s arm, telling him: “Informed consent is holding back our diagnosis.” House now has his sample, but will he find the one last shot of inspiration he needs to crack the case?