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Globe and Mail covers "ER" protests by Canadian blindness group and the Center

November 22, 2003 -- Today Canada's Globe and Mail ran an article by Guy Dixon that was primarily about the Canadian Institute for the Blind's protest of the November 13 "ER" episode, but that also reported on the Center's campaign about the show's portrayal of nursing.

Most of the article focused on a press release and letter-writing campaign launched by the Institute in response to the November 13 episode. In that episode, Bob Newhart played a patient suffering from age-related macular degeneration who ultimately committed suicide. The Institute's president, Jim Sanders, noted that the episode failed to show that those suffering from macular degeneration can still lead "healthy, active, productive lives." Dixon wondered how receptive the networks and producers responsible would be to the group's concerns, "particularly with aging hits like 'ER' looking to edgy storylines to maintain their ratings." The story also noted that the Institute was not the only one taking issue with "ER" lately, as the Center had recently launched a letter-writing campaign aimed at NBC and the show's producers, protesting the show's portrayal of nurses and their roles in hospitals.

The piece closed with quotes from Richard Gruneau, a communications professor at Simon Fraser University, who noted that television shows had been forced off the air by large-scale boycotts of sponsors, though he felt that was unlikely when the protest was about one plotline in one episode. The article did not address the potential success of a boycott about "ER"'s handling of an issue, such as nursing, that has been a key part of its plotlines in most episodes for many years.

The protest by the Institute for the Blind illustrates a point that we have often made: many people take what "ER" says about health care seriously, and it matters that the show avoid damaging inaccuracies and distortions. And the health care the Newhart character received was itself revealing of "ER"'s approach. This care amounted to emergency treatment related to a prior potential suicide attempt, a half-hearted attempt to get a psychiatrist involved, and some personal support by ED attending Susan Lewis, on whom the far older patient developed a crush. When Lewis failed to show for a dinner date, the character committed suicide. Perhaps because "ER"'s vision of health care is so trauma physician-centric, no real effort was made to involve experienced counselors, social workers, nurses, or even physicians who specialize in macular degeneration. Any of these professionals might at least have offered the character a better range of services and care--and helped show viewers the "healthy, active, productive" life still available--even if the producers felt that drama still required the same final outcome.

See Guy Dixon's article "ER episode under fire" in the Globe and Mail.

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