Your Thoughts: House Episode “The Tyrant”

Ed. Note- If you are a House fan and have not seen this episode, there are spoilers here so do not read on if you plan on watching it.

My wife and I are fans of the TV show House, I’m sure more than a few of you have watched it and or are hooked.

Tonight’s episode “The Tyrant” had James Earl Jones playing the role of a character very reminiscent of the President of Darfur, Omar al-Bashir. In this episode, the character gets sick and is admitted to the hospital obviously where the show takes place. He is treated for multiple things, as is the case with every show, until they think they get the diagnoses correct, but he dies.

Some of the main characters in House, Cameron and Chase, air their thoughts to one another about how this man should be treated, ethically by the medical oath they took, or based on their morality. Like the real life president of Darfur, this man and his administration are committing severe acts of genocide. Chase believes they are to do the job they have chosen, and heal the man, regardless of his inadequacies in being a compassionate human being. Cameron has a hard time doing the job, but does it none the less.

There is an exchange between the President and Chase, after the President grabs onto Cameron and spews his venom. After the exchange, Chase’s thoughts on the President change and he immediately, unknowingly at the time, changes course. After the death of the President, Foreman (the lead doctor) finds a sign in sheet for the morgue, which implicates Chase in some wrongdoing that proves he tainted some blood tests that would affect the treatment of the President.

My wife and I started talking about how we would have gone about things had we been a doctor treating the likes of Omar al-Bashir, Than Shwe, Mao Zedong, Hitler of any other dictator. While I agree with my wife on certain things, like the fact being a doctor one swears and oath to a code of ethics, but I disagree to an extent when it comes to the morality of it.

I know as a Buddhist I shouldn’t even think about the death of another, or act when it comes to that person meeting an untimely end. BUT, and I say that loudly, BUT wouldn’t one be easing the suffering of a lot more people if this one, insignificant mosquito were not buzzing around anymore? I understand the karmic implications if one were to act in this way, but isn’t it my “duty” to protect as many living beings from suffering?

This may set off a firestorm of comments, I am kind of hoping it does, maybe I have something to learn in all of this. I know the choice I would have made, I see alot of myself in this Chase character from time to time, maybe that’s why I enjoy the show. So… thoughts anyone??


  1. As a mayahana buddhist there are several things you can do in this situation.
    Their pain can help you develop renunciation and compassion.
    You can dedicate your merit for them.

    Its your duty to attain enlightenment so that you can actually protect all living beings from suffering. This should remind you of your inability to do so while you are still trapped in samsara.

  2. I agree that the episode gave us a good look at the moral ambiguity of the world that we all come into contact to at some point. But the way it ended—with Forman “absolving” Chase by burning the paper and Chase guiltily going to bed–is this the ending we want? Does the make a doctor killing any patient okay? I found myself with a bit of distaste in my mouth from that idea. And the news of moderates taking over is a laughable one, that is not likely in such a scenario, often someone even worse comes to power, or at least within the same ideology even if weaker. I don’t think the House writers asked any conflict, culture, or international relations experts for much help on this one, even if they wrote interesting characters.

  3. Nathan,
    I can’t find exactly where it’s at, but I’ve heard of one of the Jataka tales that tells a story of the Bodhisattva who was a captain of a ship. One of the passengers had planned to sink the ship and kill everyone aboard. The Bodhisattva caught wind of the conspiracy and killed the man to save the others on board. Maybe someone else knows more about this story than I do.

    I had an issue about killing a spider in my bathroom recently. I usually get a cup or something to trap them and then let them go outside, but I was caught between not having anything available and it hiding if I went to go get something. Having my two year old daughter in mind, and not wanting her to suffer from getting bit by what I believed to be a Fiddleback, I struggled for a few minutes about what karmic implications I might suffer from having to kill it, which I ended up doing. One of my Zen friends said something that really clicked for me when I told him about it. He said, “Jamie, the problem wasn’t that you killed the spider, it was that you hesitated.”

    Being in law enforcement, I realize that at some point I may be required to take the life of another human being. I understand the serious implications of it, but I am prepared to not hesitate should the time arise. From one Buddhist scholar I heard it termed “compassionate violence”. I totally understand the need sometimes for such incidents as Operation Valkyrie.

    As far as Cameron’s actions… I won’t say either way.

  4. This is a very good post and the comment above is quite insightful as well. We cannot predict the fruits of karma. There are infinite possibilities and probabilities that can be calculated but none of it certain.

    Truly someone even worse may just be waiting in the wings. Someone with more ambition and even deeper sadistic impulses. In the case of Hitler this was certainly true if you delve into the actions and ideas of his circle.

    And what happens to say a doctor who takes the situation into his own hands? Once stepping over such a line there is no turning back. What if he has to treat a pedophile or rapist? Will he then decide this person is a cause of suffering and they should be done away with? And how much further would it extend? The troublesome in-law, the partying neighbor…?

    It’s playing God and believing one has a right to do so. Not much different than the dictator himself.

    As for “duty” I would venture that is a rationalization of action that would firstly assuage the offense felt by the ego of the person using “duty” as an excuse and only then, perhaps (?) relieve some suffering.

    Some lines cannot be crossed no matter how we may try to justify or rationalize them to ourselves.

  5. Why shouldn’t you think about the death of another? Death happens. If you act without asking questions you aren’t really acting on something. Instead you are just drifting.

    Nobody knows what will happen if you kill him.
    Maybe his successor will be even worse.
    Maybe your act of professionalism will open his eyes to a different way of thinking.
    We simply don’t know.

    Before you commit to the thought of karmic implications try a different point of view. If you kill him there is no going back. Life doesn’t come with an undo button. You are acting with thoughts of revenge for what he has done and what he might do. If we are going to play the karma card in this situation we need to see everything clearly. (I feel a karma post coming on. Gotta flesh it out.)

    The question you need to ask yourself is “What is right for me in this moment?” It’s hard enough to ask that question much less answer it. Put aside your emotions and exist in the moment.

    I don’t’ know what I would do in this situation. I hope I would be able to look him in the eye, tell him he’s a killer that shouldn’t breathe the same air I do and then do my job as a doctor and heal him.

    This reminds me of an article I read about the death penalty and the Dalai Lama. There is a lot of good text at the link and I’m only sharing one paragraph below. Go give the whole thing a read.

    “Harmful actions and their tragic consequences all have their origin in disturbing emotions and negative thoughts, and these are a state of mind, whose potential we find within all human beings. From this point of view, every one of us has the potential to commit crimes, because we are all subject to negative disturbing emotions and negative mental qualities. And we will not overcome these by executing other people.”

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