Get a medical perspective on every episode
Stay or Go?
By Noah Evslin, Director of Medical Research
If you watch our show closely, you realize it's not the medical treatments that make Private Practice different than other shows on television; rather, it's the ethical debates our doctors have over any of the myriad decisions they need to make every week.
Although the main medical storyline in the Season Five opener, "God Laughs," revolves around Pete's massive heart attack, it's the smaller storyline that I want to explore here – the story of JOANNA GIBSON, a successful career woman who was physically abused by her husband of over a decade.
The story takes place primarily at the airport where Violet was waiting for a plane to New York. While sitting at the gate, Violet can't help but overhear a heated discussion between Joanna and her husband DAVID where he begs her not to throw away twelve years of marriage over a single fight.
After David leaves to get coffee, Violet gets more information out of Joanna. She's a successful lawyer. In the early parts of their marriage, David worked two jobs to put her through law school. He then remained supportive while she worked around the clock. But now, many years later, David's changed. He's no longer supportive. And the last time they fought, David hit her.
This brings us to this week's ethical debate: Should somebody throw away an entire marriage over one incident of physical abuse?
In the United States, there are between 1 and 3 million cases of domestic abuse every year, and women of all races are equally vulnerable to violence by their partner. What makes this story particularly interesting is that there was no history of abuse for Joanna. She thought she had a great marriage, a successful marriage, a safe marriage, and then during one particularly bad fight, David violated that trust.
For people who view domestic violence from the outside, the advice seems obvious: if your partner abuses you in any way, you leave them. But for people on the inside, the answers aren't always so clear. For many, there are financial concerns. For others, there's the issue of children. For almost everybody, there's the not inconsequential issue of still being in love with the person that is abusing you.
What Violet tells Joanna is that after David hit her, she felt the need to leave him and go somewhere safe. Why should she doubt that instinct now? She also tells Joanna she can't pretend it never happened and she needs to take back control of her life.