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Medical paternalism in House M.D.
  1. M R Wicclair
  1. Mark R Wicclair, Center for Bioethics and Health Law, University of Pittsburgh, 3708 Fifth Avenue, Suite 300, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA; wicclair{at}


The popular television series House M.D. is drawn upon to provide a critical examination of medical paternalism and how it is presented in the show. Dr Gregory House, the character named in the title of the series, is a paradigm of a paternalistic physician. He believes that he knows what is best for his patients, and he repeatedly disregards their wishes in order to diagnose and treat their illnesses. This paper examines several examples of medical paternalism and the means used to portray it favourably in the series. It is argued that the positive depiction of medical paternalism in the fictional world of the series does not apply in the real world. The paper also considers why a show that features a paternalistic physician who so blatantly flouts mainstream medical ethics might appeal to health professionals and members of the general public.

  • paternalism
  • ethics
  • medical ethics
  • medical humanities
  • medicine and television
  • House M.D.

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  • None declared.

  • i The other countries are Germany, Finland, Spain, Singapore, Ireland, Netherlands, South Korea, Chile, Argentina and Australia. This information is from the Internet Movie Database: (accessed 22 April 2008).

  • ii In the series, it is common for the main characters to refer to each other by last name only (for example, “House” rather than “Dr House”). I will adopt this convention as well.

  • iii In a chapter for a forthcoming anthology, I explicate the concept of paternalism with scenes from House M.D.2

  • iv This information is from the Internet Movie Database, (accessed 23 April 2008), and the House M.D. official website, (accessed 23 April 2008).

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