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Dear "ER": some protests more equal than others?

January 16, 2004 -- One plotline in the January 22, 2004 "ER" episode "Dear Abby," originally broadcast on October 9, 2003, sparked a letter of protest from the Pulmonary Hypertension Association (PHA), which argued that the show's inaccurate portrayal of pulmonary hypertension as offering only a "slow and agonizing death" had a "very negative and disturbing impact" on sufferers and their families. The PHA letter noted that there are now treatments that allow at least some patients to "live normal, productive lives 10, even 15 years beyond their diagnosis."

In stark contrast to "ER"'s refusal even to respond to the many nurses who have written at the Center's urging to protest this same episode's damaging misportrayal of nursing, "ER" story editor and physician Lisa Zwerling wrote a substantive response to PHA. Dr. Zwerling's November 12 letter said the show regretted any "concern" the show might have caused. She noted that the show did consult a specialist in creating the plotline, and maintained that, as in the episode, a real ED physician might not be aware of all the therapies currently available. Zwerling stated that the show's creators "greatly appreciate [PHA's] input. We recognize the capacity for ER to educate the public about diseases and we take this responsibility seriously. Hopefully we will have the opportunity to educate viewers further about the encouraging advancements in the treatment of PH in future storylines."

These statements differ greatly from "ER"'s comments to the press about the Center's campaign on nursing issues (again, we know of no direct response to any nurse). The show's reported comments on nursing focus on its dramatic license. They avoid any specific discussion of "ER"'s portrayal of nursing, and include no recognition of any responsibility to portray the profession accurately, nor any inclination to reconsider the current portrayal.

See the PHA's letter to "ER" and "ER"'s letter to the PHA.

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