The online transplant community is all a-twitter over the season premiere of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy last week. The intense premiere featured a 12-person kidney donation chain, where the would-be donors of several transplant candidates all swapped their kidneys with each other to find organs that matched for all their recipients. That’s 12 transplants happening at once, in six operating rooms, all conducted by, you guessed it, those McDreamy, McSteamy, and McLovely starring physicians. (Doctors in the world of TV drama, you see, do every single task themselves, from labwork and MRIs in the dark to every known surgical technique known to man. Of course.) The episode was rife with myth and medical-team decisions that pushed if not trampled on the boundaries of ethics and common sense. I could go on for days about the factual inaccuracies and ethical breaches it contained.
Grey’s Anatomy isn’t alone. My hands-down favorite drama these days, House, has had several transplant-related stories that are borderline, if not way over the top, offensive for their wreckless representation of myths and ethical boundary pushing. Like this episode. Or this one or this one. ER has done it, Scrubs has done it, heck, for all I know, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman has done it.
But a part of me loves to see the idea of kidney swaps and chains featured in front of prime time America, even for all the flaws. I imagine it does America’s couch potato public some good to be aware that swaps are a viable option in some cases. If it sparks conversation with their loved ones and transplant teams, all the better.
What do you think?
While the Grey’s surgical team would have made a world record if they had actually conducted 12 transplants at once, in truth those kinds of swaps are increasingly helping people without a matching living donor get their life-saving transplant from a different living donor. (I think the record is five surgeries at once, at UCLA, but I’m not sure. Also, programs that conduct these chains are sometimes opting not to do all the surgeries at once, but instead over time and often involving multiple transplant centers. Case in point.
A long time ago, I remember hearing about a woman who was blogging about truth and myths in prime-time medical dramas. As I recall, she was writing fairly regularly about the shows that had most recently aired, and then highlighting what was true, what was a stretch, and what was downright preposterous. I tried searching for her again tonight but never found her. If any of you are aware of any services that are doing this, please comment or email!