There is a very clear tension between the requirements of medicine and those of entertainment. Yet medicine and entertainment are often conflated: stale and inaccurate health advice is broadcast as if it were news, and patients' hardship can be exploited on medical reality shows for entertainment value.
The investigative news website ProPublica documented a startling illustration of this problem: when a patient's death was broadcast on television without permission from the family.
Health reporter Charles Ornstein tells the story of Anita Chanko, whose husband's death was filmed and broadcast on the medical reality show "NY Med" — featuring Dr. Mehmet Oz — without the family's consent.
The way Chanko found out about the alleged transgression is nightmarish. One early morning, more than a year after her husband died, she found herself unable to sleep, and turned on the TV to settle on the popular show:
On the TV screen, she saw the chief surgery resident Sebastian Schubl, responding to an emergency in which a man is hit by a vehicle.
"And then I see, even with the blurred picture, you could tell it was him," she said. "You could hear his speech pattern. I hear my husband say, 'Does my wife know I'm here?'."
There was no doubt in her mind: The blurred-out man moaning in pain was her husband of almost 46 years, the Korean War veteran she met in a support group for parents without partners.
"I hear them saying his blood pressure is falling. I hear them getting out the paddles and then I hear them saying, 'OK, are you ready to pronounce him?'."
She clenched her fists so tightly that "the palms of my hands almost looked like stigmata" and her mouth got so dry that her tongue stuck to the roof "as if I had just eaten a whole jar of peanut butter."
"I saw my husband die before my eyes."
As Ornstein points out, these scenarios raise tricky ethical issues about that tension between medicine and entertainment.
"Medical ethicists and groups like the American Medical Association worry that these shows exploit patients' pain for public consumption, but their makers argue that they educate viewers and inspire people to choose careers in medicine," he writes.
You can read the whole, fascinating feature here.
Read more: Scientists tallied up all the advice on Dr. Oz's show. Half of it was baseless or wrong, Why Dr. Oz can say anything and keep his medical license, Dr. Oz's three biggest weight loss lies, debunked, and Meet the medical student who wants to bring down Dr. Oz.