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Ethical aspects of the case scenario
  1. Rob George, Medicine and Senior Lecturer
  1. Consultant in Palliative Medicine and Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Ethics, University College London

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Much of the general population’s experience and understanding of sudden illness and death, especially that of the young, comes from medical soap operas. No matter how contrived these are (and there are none more contrived than those set in accident and emergency (A&E) departments), they enter people’s subconscious at some level. Within the storylines, patients’ hearts restart with cardioversion and clever drugs as a matter of routine. Death, apart from that caused by trauma or used as a dramatic device, is portrayed as the exception.

Hence, when someone’s relative has a medical catastrophe, in response to inestimable trauma, I suggest the family automatically and subconsciously grasps for an encouraging reference point and there is a tendency to use television as that reference point. This subliminal effect of media-moulded culture adds to one’s individual and familiar defaults, i.e. ‘It can’t happen to me/us’, and ‘If it does, then I/we will be the exception that proves the rule’. A third, insidiously perverting view with increasing currency is, ‘You only die when doctors stop treating …

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