In November 2008, The Berman Institute organized and convened a symposium to explore the possibilities for collaboration between the television industry and the academic bioethics community. Participants identified areas in which academic bioethicists and members of the television industry could work collaboratively around television programming to increase awareness of the challenging questions that are central bioethics. The BITE website is one product. Participants felt that it an interactive website that focuses on bioethics issues appearing in the story lines of select scripted television shows, including mainly medical dramas would be a valuable resource for educators, researchers and the general public. The topics that arise in these episodes and how they are presented have a direct and complex relationship with the ‘life’ of these bioethics issues in real-life. These portrayals (likely) both reflect and influence current responses to tough challenges. We can learn from the stories by looking at which actors are presented as the good guys and which are the bad guys. Stories often gesture strongly towards what the author feels is right response in thinking about what one ought to do when presented with a dilemma.
Following the initial meeting, a small subset of participants have begun conducting empirical research around the broader topic. Studies have demonstrated, for example, that many medical and nursing students are frequent viewers of medical dramas, and that they often discuss the shows, including the ethical dilemmas, among their peers. Researchers have further explored the content presented in scripted medical dramas finding that they are rife with portrayals of ethical challenges and issues around professionalism. Medical dramas are particularly important as they consistently rank among the most popular television shows in Nielsen ratings.
The BITE website will provide short clips from medical dramas focusing on a specific issue in bioethics. We have used a coding system adapted from National Reference Center for Bioethics Literature Library Classification Scheme to organize our clips by topic. With each clip you will find a designated area in which comments and discussion are encouraged. Additional resources surrounding the subject will also be made available for those interested in delving deeper into the topic. We believe the BITE website can provide a platform to stimulate and host meaningful discussions around challenging topics in bioethics. It is our hope that this content, including clips and discussions can result in a better understanding of both bioethics challenges and the ways in which they are portrayed on television.
The BITE website is intended as a resource intended for a wide variety of people coming from diverse personal and professional backgrounds. Whether you are interested in using the clips to aid in teaching an ethics course in medical school or a university, or simply want to see what ethical principles are violated by Dr. House, we believe the website will provide an informal and interactive platform for discussion. We encourage all to participate!