In (Indignant) Defense of House

Sally Satel and Jonathan Klick have a pretty good article at NRO on allegations of racial bias in medical care. Unfortunately, they lead it off with an example from House, and they get it all wrong.

Here's their excerpt:

Dr. Foreman to African American patient: Your blood pressure's a little high. I have something new that should help you out. Combines a nitrate with a blood pressure pill. It's targeted to African-Americans.

Patient: Targeted?

Foreman: Yeah, well, see we tend to have nitric oxide deficiencies. The studies show this drug counteracts that problem. It's the first drug to—

Patient: Ah…I've had white people lying to me for 60 years.

The patient rejects that drug, returns the next day, and finally leaves satisfied when another doctor tells him, "I'll give you the same medicine we give Republicans."

Then Satel and Klick comment:

This exchange between a black doctor and his black patient took place on House, Fox's medical drama. The idea that a physician (black or white) will give his white patients better care than his black patients has, alas, found its way into mainstream, primetime television.

I read this, and I say: whoa, hang on a cotton-pickin' minute. (And I'm not trying to imply anything racial by using the term "cotton-pickin'", I was just influenced at a young age by Tennessee Ernie Ford and Foghorn Leghorn.)

How many ways did Satel and Klick get this wrong?

  • The only one claiming that blacks are getting inferior medical care in this episode is the patient; he has no evidence for this save his own racial obsession.

  • It's not just "another doctor" saying "I'll give you the same medicine we give Republicans.": it's Dr. House his own self.

  • He says this only after the patient says that he didn't get the medicine that Dr. Foreman prescribed. (Says the patient: "I didn't fill that Oreo's prescription.")

  • He also only says this after the patient refuses to accept a prescription for the "racist drug" from House as well.

  • But it later turns out that House lied to the patient about prescribing the "Republican" drug; he reveals to Foreman "I told him it was the white stuff. I gave him the black stuff."

  • Foreman gets upset by this. I still can't figure out why.

So, rather than reinforce the idea that black people get inferior medical care, this episode of House debunks it. The black patient gets the appropriate medicine despite his own misperceptions; both House and Foreman do their best to make that happen. (And the only reason House succeeds where Foreman fails is because House has no compunctions about lying to the patient.)

I realize that it's tough to set a strong opening hook on a magazine article. But House, as near as I can tell, diligently avoids PCness and political tendentia; it's one of the reasons I'm a devoted viewer. So I'm disappointed (and indignant!) that Satel and Klick misrepresent a fine TV show.

(A very dedicated fan has the transcript of the episode here, probably in violation of 19 different copyright laws. More power to him or her.)

Last Modified 2012-10-25 2:47 PM EST