I've been watching "House" off and on for the past three seasons since its Pilot, but only recently have I really started to pay attention to it. Although the writers often sashay dangerously to and over the edge of impropriety, they are most often just very candid, a quality I am personally attracted to. The unorthadox methods excercised by the title character, Dr. Gregory House, are often admirable in terms of the fact that he acts for the benefit of the patient, despite convention or legality, and also make for some fascinating and unexpected storylines.
One of the more interesting facets of the show, however, is the internal conflict raging within House himself. Ten years earlier, a procedure had been done against his will in which muscles from his thigh had been removed to put a stop to a life-threatening infection, a procedure which has left him crippled, bitter, and in constant pain. This pain, along with an already depressed, self-centered, and neurotic personality, has caused him to become addicted to the narcotic Vicadin. He is a self-proclaimed rationalist, although it is unclear whether or not he is simply harboring a hatred for whatever higher order has left him broken and a cripple. He is a pessimist, insisting that "everybody lies; the only variable is as to what." His experience with pain, both of himself and his patients, in conjunction with a vast knowledge of science, causes him to reject any higher order, with the basic philosophy that we must treat life the best we can, because the future is ultimately without dignity or hope.
Consequently, the undertone of existentialism of the show, and the fundemental atheism of the main character, makes the overall treatment of objective truth, religion, and morality well-intentioned at best, but almost always somewhat strained. I was still questioning whether or not the rationalism was something I could look past in good conscience until I read the transcript (I never actually watched it) for the episode "One Day, One Room," where House convinces a young Christian woman to have an abortion after a rape. She argues that abortion is murder, and that she finds comfort in believing that there will one day be retribution (her character obviously written by someone who's knowledge of Christianity begins and ends with Dan Brown). House answers her by saying that God either doesn't exist, or that He is unimaginably cruel; if He does exist and is good, he wouldn't expect her to keep her "rape baby." My heart sank. Such a brillient, educated, well-written show had lost its integrity by falling into the anti-religious and liberal propaganda cliche that drives almost all art in Hollywood these days.
Nonetheless, I was intrigued by the premise of a following episode (which aired last Tuesday), in which Dr. House tries to convince a patient to end her crisis pregnancy. Since in almost every show the conflict is resolved when everyone finally agrees with House, which would imply that the mother would eventually give in and act according House's professional opinion, the end seemed tragically predictable. I wasn't optimistic. But my curiosity got the better of me, so I watched it, expecting it to be the last time I ever sat down to this show (if you want to be suprised by the ending, don't read what follows).
The episode is aptly named "Fetal Position." A 39 year old woman falls ill because of a rare disorder where the mother's body mirrors the distress of her baby. Her baby had an oversized bladder and undersized lungs, and was dying; as a result of the mother's disorder, the baby's illness was causing the mother to die as well. The dilemma: remove the baby at 21 weeks before the child is viable, thereby killing the baby, or both the mother and baby would die. The writers cleverly chose one of the most difficult moral scenarios for pregnancy, almost on par with a fallopean pregnancy, to complicate the situation.
Throughout the entire episode, Dr. House insists that the baby is a thing, a parasite, and not yet a person. He recommends a D & C (shutter!), but the mother won't hear of it, despite his insistence. Luckily for the mother and baby, Dr. Cuddy, House's boss, is an older woman also desperately trying to get pregnant, and therefore does everything she can to save the baby. Her emotions seem to be getting the better of her judgement, and she is portrayed as irrational. Nonetheless, after a series of extremely dangerous tests and procedures, Cuddy finds a sollution that may possibly save the baby. House recommends fetal surgery, while still blatently mocking Cuddy for calling it a baby.
So they perform the surgery, as follows:
To recap in case YouTube pulls the video for copywrite infringement, in the middle of the surgery, the baby reaches up and grabs House's finger, and he is visibly taken aback. The surgery continues, and the child lives. Believably, House hides any change in his attitude from his collegues, and the extent of the change is questionable. Also believably, in his last conversation with the mother, he calls it a baby for the first time in the episode. The show ends with him back at his appartment, staring questioningly at his fingers.
Can this episode, where the humanity of an unborn fetus is visibly shown to the point to where a pro-choice doctor questions his own view on the subject, justify a previous episode where that same doctor convinced a woman to have an abortion? I don't know. Is the network simply trying to cover its own rear-end by offending both sides instead of taking one stand? More than likely someone in the FOX's publicity department has that in mind. But the main character has been permenantly changed -- although we don't yet know the extent of that change. In any event, this change is significant.
The important question is, could House again convince a woman that abortion is the best way out now that the question of the unborn child's humanity has been raised in his mind? From the perspective of character development, the answer to this question is fundemental to whether or not the writers of the show are using a previously pro-choice character as a catylist for an ultimately pro-life objective. If nothing else, it is raising the right questions. Everything hinges on where they take it from this point on.
I'm hopeful, but I'm not going to hold my breath. The overall ethical nature of the show is too far from perfect for me to trust that it will take such a violent turn towards conservatism. Be that as it may, the choice to show an unborn hand was a bold one, so I'll remain cautiously optimistic for the time being.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!