Oh, Grey’s Anatomy. We are regular watchers, and it is surprising, especially given the series’ 10 year run, that this is the first time it has inspired a law blog post.
This week’s episode, “When I Grow Up,” continued the series’ final season tear-jerker trend and framed a legal issue related to organ donation that we couldn’t ignore.
In the episode, three police officers were badly injured in a bank robbery. Two of the officers — Pete and Brett — were brothers, and the third, Dan, was their commanding officer. Early in the episode we met the brothers’ mother, Mrs. Gibson, when she was told the heartbreaking news that Pete suffered a complete and irreversible loss of brain function.
As Entertainment Weekly points out:
Medical dramas rarely take a look at the grief associated with what goes on in hospitals. We see Weber and Grey and co. telling family members their loved ones have passed, but we don’t usually see these family members dealing with the loss. Because of this, it’s refreshing to see Mrs. Gibson, a grieving mother, do more than cry when she’s delivered the news—heartbreaking, yes, but refreshing.
The episode becomes even more poignant as we watched Mrs. Gibson’s anguish upon learning that she has lost her second son, Brett, who is also brain dead.
In a soapy moment that still manages to be compelling in the way that Grey’s Anatomy has mastered, the driver of the robbery escape car is a 15 year-old boy, Jared, who needs a liver. We learn that — wait for it — one of Mrs. Gibson’s sons is a perfect donor match for Jared.
Grey Sloan Memorial’s doctors approach the mourning mother to request that she donate both of her son’s organs. She agrees, mentioning that her sons became police officers to help people. But when Dr. Bailey jumps in and tries to convince the mom to make a specific donation of her son’s liver to the person Dr. Bailey vaguely refers to only as a 15 year-old patient who needs the liver to survive, Mrs. Gibson puts two and two together and refuses to sign papers authorizing any donation of organs.
Dr. Bailey: Grey, look I had to try.
Dr. Grey: For your patient, I know, but now that’s dozens of transplant patients that you just screwed out of a chance.
Throughout the episode, Dan, the supervising officer who suffered a gunshot wound to the leg, repeatedly asks his treating physician, Dr. Torres, about the condition of the robbery suspect, Jared. She mistakenly assumes that Dan’s curiosity is motivated by a desire for revenge, and that he wants the suspect to die. This is Grey’s Anatomy, so we soon learn that the this is the furthest thing from the truth.
Dan: I’m not looking to settle a score, okay. I knew this kid. Brett knew this kid. We put him in juvy, we got him into the foster system. We tried. Jared is one of those kids, you know? He’s smart, he’s funny, he’s just susceptible to bad things, bad choices, bad kids. Brett would have called this his moment.
Dr. Grey: What’s his moment?
Dan: He called it, he called it “the moment.” When a kid would back himself into a corner. I mean, it would hit the fan so bad that there’s no other choice but to turn it around, wind-up in lock-up, or dead. Brett would say, “That’s when you can get them, Dan. That’s when you can turn them around.” And this would have been it for Jared. And Brett would have been here to help.
Dan convinces Mrs. Gibson to donate both of her sons’ organs, and she gives a specific gift of the liver to Jared. We also watch the rest of the officers’ organs leaving the hospital — via police cars lined up outside of the emergency room entrance, one car per organ — to dozens of other patients who need them.
There wasn’t a dry eye on our couch.
So what does this have to do with organ donation law? In the episode, it appears that Brett and Pete had not formalized their wishes regarding organ donation — also called anatomical gifts. As a result, the hospital turns to their next of kin — who we are left to assume is their mother, Mrs. Gibson — in order to obtain consent for an organ donation.
Because Mrs. Gibson did not know her sons specific requests regarding organ donation, she must try to decide — in a time of unimaginable grief — what her sons wishes would have been with respect to their organs. This episode presents a scenario where, in the event that Officer Dan hadn’t been present in the hospital at the critical moment, she might have made a decision that wasn’t in line with what her sons would have wanted.
In Connecticut, we can help our family members make heart wrenching decisions and ensure our wishes are followed by formally making an anatomical gift. At Freed Marcroft, we assist clients in formalizing their wishes regarding what organs they would like to donate and for what purposes they would like to donate those organs. (For example, some individuals might choose to make an anatomical gift of any of their organs for any legal purpose, others might wish to donate only specific organs for the purpose of transplantation, but not for research or education. To some, it is important that they memorialize their wish not to make an anatomical gift, and we are able to assist with formalizing that, as well.) In addition to the document granting an anatomical gift, many clients choose to appoint a health care representative. In Connecticut, competent adults have the right to appoint a health care representative, granting the representative the legal authority to make health care decisions on their behalf in the event that they ever become permanently or temporarily (which could simply mean under anesthesia) incapacitated and unable to make their own health care decisions.
The law allows us, while we are healthy, to choose someone who knows our values and wishes to provide direction to those caring for us. It also allows us to chose someone who we think will be able to emotionally handle making extremely difficult decisions on our behalf at a time of sadness and/or crisis.
An excellent episode of Grey’s Anatomy aside, formalizing both your wishes regarding organ donation and other healthcare decisions and choosing someone to make healthcare decisions for you if you become unable to make them for yourself, can both help ensure that your wishes are carried out and be a kindness to your families and loved ones.