Doctors are generally believed to uphold the value of “first do no harm,” but that wasn’t the case on the latest episode of medical drama New Amsterdam which portrayed enabling a suicide as an act of mercy.
Oncologist Dr. Helen Sharpe is one of the most sympathetic characters on NBC’s New Amsterdam. She shows gentleness and compassion to all her patients. But on Tuesday’s episode, she secretly provided a suffering cancer patient with the medical means to take her own life.
Molly Richards was a cancer patient at New Amsterdam under Dr. Valentina Castro’s care, but when Sharpe met her, Molly’s in tremendous pain. She also learned that Molly was trying a seventh experimental treatment for her genetically rare tumor.
A friend of Molly’s has recently died in an accident and when Sharpe asks about it, Molly expressed envy.
“Life fine. Death at this point, fine too. It’s the middle ground waiting for death that’s humiliating,” Molly said.
Sharpe asked Molly if Dr. Castro had ever talked to her about going into hospice.
“Hospice? The trial? Someone else is still pulling the strings. I miss being in control, especially now at the end,” Molly said.
Later, Sharpe mets with Molly privately and asked her questions about her mood and quality of life before offering her the “control” she missed.
After Molly said she found “no” meaning in life and it was “lacking quality,” Sharpe placed a bottle of “extremely powerful painkillers on the table” and spelled out exactly how to take them in order to commit suicide.
“They’re very good at what they do. But if you take too many of them your breathing will slow and you will die. I’m gonna leave the room now. If they’re gone when I return, there’ll be no questions asked,” Sharpe told her before squeezing Molly’s shoulder and starting to leave. “This is your choice, no one else’s. You’re in control.”
Later Castro confronted Sharpe because Molly has checked out of the hospital entirely, implying, but never showing that she took the painkillers and left to end her own life.
The show further supported Sharpe’s action to enable Molly’s (presumed) suicide with the confrontation scene. After Castro demanded to know what happened, Sharpe lied to her while calling Valentina out.
“Okay, first of all Valentina, She’s not your patient. She is our patient. But yes, I did speak with her. And I told her that I thought you were doing an extraordinary job. But if her pain had become too great, I knew that you would understand if she chose not to continue treatment,” Sharpe said.
Then she added, “Because as a physician there is no way that you would put a drug trial or scientific discovery ahead of the needs of your patient. And I am certain that she appreciated that.”
Castro replied with an edge to her voice, “Next time one of our patients has an issue, I promise I’ll be equally supportive of you.”
In the same episode, Dr. Vijay Kapoor learned his son's pregnant girlfriend was contemplating the abortion of his grandchild. Kapoor's son left town right after learning of the pregnancy.
For a show that's often about saving lives, New Amsterdam demonstrated it doesn't embrace the sanctity of life from birth to death.