How Far Should a Friend Go for Another Friend?
By Noah Evslin, Director of Medical Research
If you watch our show closely, you'll realize it's not the medical treatments that make Private Practice different than other shows on television; rather, it's the ethical debates surrounding the myriad decisions our doctors need to make every week.
The fifth episode of the season, "Step One," deals with the return of MICHELLE LOGAN (episode #416), a friend of Amelia's who's suffering from Huntington's Disease. Michelle is the same friend that Amelia promised to help kill once she started showing symptoms of the deadly disorder.
Huntington's Disease is a genetic disorder that causes the nerve cells in the brain to degenerate. As the disorder progresses, the degeneration can be so severe that victims suffer from dementia and complete loss of muscle movement and coordination, on top of a slew of other things, before it eventually takes their life. Unfortunately, as of yet, there is also no cure for Huntington's Disease. Additionally, because the symptoms are so severe, there is also an extremely high suicide rate amongst people who have been diagnosed with this disease, as they'd rather die by their own hand than face so much suffering.
When presented with a friend who has this tragic disorder, Amelia needs to figure out what to do. As a world-class neurosurgeon, she'd love to be able to whip out a miracle surgery to cure Michelle, but no such surgery exists. Since Amelia can't cure Michelle, she feels the need to help her die painlessly, but Physician Assisted Suicide is illegal in the state of California â€“ so Amelia would be committing murder if she were to help Michelle in this way.
So what does Amelia do? She made a promise to her friend, but is it worth risking her career and her freedom to uphold the promise? On the other hand, she doesn't want to watch her friend die a painful, terrible death. After debating it with the other doctors in the practice, Amelia decides to help Michelle die by administering a lethal cocktail of drugs. However, right in the beginning of the process, Michelle has an adverse reaction to one of the drugs and asks Amelia to stop. Amelia then rushes Michelle to the hospital, where they're able to save her. After she's released, Michelle decides once and for all to take her own life because she understands what Amelia would be risking by helping her.
Do you think Amelia made the right decision?