Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Tale of Two Teens: The Back Story

After I published A Tale of Two Teens last week, my husband suggested I send a copy of it to ER. I decided to write the writer. It was the writer, after all, who set the stage, wrote the dialogue and decided to kill this fictional young man with a progressive neurological disability. So; I began researching "The Test", the episode that aired November 1, 2007.

The writer, turns out, is also a doctor, a pediatrician, who practices part-time at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles California.

~public service announcement~

Angeleno Parents!

grab all your children,
load them into the mini-van
and drive inland as fast as you can.

Lisa Zwerling has made a small splash in Hollywood. She not only wrote "The Test"; she contributed many scripts for ER in the four years she worked for NBC.

In a January 10, 2007 interview for the Oncology Times, Zwerling explains her philosophy of being a physician/writer, "We try to have the doctors on the show relate to patients the way we would relate to patients if we were working in the hospital." She says her clinical work is both a source of inspiration and a reality check for her writing.

If that is true, someone call the District Attorney to check her caseload for questionable deaths. In "The Test," she ordered death over life for a 13-year-old boy with a progressive neuromuscular disability. Mom is the boy’s legal guardian and the person entrusted to make his medical decisions for another five years. The doctors concocted a story and advised her that his lungs could not take the pressure of a ventilator and would blow them out. Then they lied again and said they had no choice other than to let him die.

I wonder what part of that story came from her clinical work. How does she really feel about their quality of life, and the value of their lives? What advice is she giving to parents of children with disabilities? Has she prescribed death for her patients with disabilities?

Do No Harm Should not be Fiction

Her ableist fiction writing has consequences. People watching will think, "That's true, I'd rather be dead than have to go on a respirator." They instruct family members, or write in their living wills, not to put them on a respirator.

Will anyone give them the information that they can have a joyful and long life using a simple breathing aid? It is even less likely anyone will get that information if they are poor, of color or do not speak English. Now imagine the consequences of her ableism inside a small examination room talking to a young patient's parents.

Considering Zwerling's omnipotence towards patients, it's no surprise she has landed on the nurse's short list of enemies.

Every year The Center for Nursing Advocacy issues a list of the best and worst media portrayals of the nursing profession. Zwerling's scripts each year make the "worst" list. In 2004 the center writes:

Though every episode of "ER" broadcast during 2004 continued the show's traditional role as the world's most influential purveyor of the handmaiden stereotype of nursing, these five episodes were some of the worst. They presented a compelling vision of a level one trauma center in which virtually all significant care was provided or directed by physicians, in which physician characters regularly performed exciting work that nurses do in real life; and in which the training of young physicians was of intense interest, but nurses were fungible assistants (and love interests) who did not seem to receive clinical training. We cannot recall ever seeing a nursing student on "ER;" certainly not in 2004.

Zwerling had her hand in each of the worst of the worst. This is a pediatrician with a God complex. Only people at the top of the pyramid determine what is right and true and worthy.

A Breach of Ethics

In a Christian Science Monitor article, Zwerling waxes on about how important it is to her that the characters she writes about are ethical creatures. It reads:

Dr. Zwerling says writers and actors want to look like the real thing, so she rarely has to put her foot down. But there are moments, such as the time a writer paired a plastic surgeon and a burn victim romantically - a flagrant breach of ethics.

"For a while, there was one version, of the script where they actually kiss in the intensive care unit," she says, shaking her head, adding this would never happen. "I went into my boss's office and laid down on the floor and said, 'Can we please not have doctors kissing their patients in the ICU, please?’ ” She won that battle, she adds. The lovebirds kissed in a firehouse instead.

Apparently, those ethics do not extend to caring for people with disabilities, or lying to parents.

The Writers' Strike

I wish the writers well in their efforts to get royalties for their intellectual properties. I think they deserve compensation for their efforts. But, it's creating a concern for me.

Lisa J. Zwerling, M.D. may be looking for more inspiration, by adding a few more hours to her medical doctoring schedule.

RUN everyone! RUN for the hills! But don't trip; you just may end up in her ER.


  • Lisa Zwerling 2111 Woodland Way, Los Angeles, CA 90068 (323) 512-3795
  • Zwerling serves on the Advisory board of DooF. DooF is FooD backwards. It is a new show heading for PBS.
  • In 2002 Dr. Zwerling worked at Department of Emergency Medicine, Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, Calif, as far as I can tell, she still works there part time.
  • Dr. Lisa Zwerling, 4560 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA - Specialties Emergency Medicine
Update - November 15, 2007: Read Valerie Brew-Parrish's review of the same program here.

1 comment:

Penny L. Richards said...

Nah, if you want to avoid the CHLA emergency room in Hollywood, better to come nearer to the coast--we go to CHLA to see specialists and for a few surgeries, but all our ER trips have been to other closer hospitals (four in all, yikes).

Further food for thought: Paris Hilton did her community service at CHLA this summer. So, will a vapid heiress be turning up on a future TV episode? Blech.