Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Bears and Culpability

Last night, Harriet was wasting her time watching popular television. While I admire the ingenuity and technological advancement that television represents, but I can't help but think that culture has been debased and degraded as a result. I prefer to immerse myself in a classic book with a symphony lightly playing in the background. Perhaps television will create a show worthy of inclusion in the pantheon of great works, but for now television consists of drivel and I am disappointed that Harriet watches it.

The show in question was a medical "research" drama (normally, I abhor scare quotes, but regarding television I will indulge myself this trite insult) where children were suffering mysterious heart problems. The protagonist eventually learned that the heart failure was caused by a virus, but that only led to the question of how the newborns were exposed to the virus. It turns out that a nurse carried the virus and teddy bears were the vector for transmission. The TV drama was attempting to blame the illness on teddy bears!

Under even the most cursory scrutiny, such a claim falls apart. In order for an agent (in this case a teddy bear) to be culpable for the deaths of the infants a number of criteria must be met. First, the bear must have knowledge of the cause and effect relationship. Since the teddy bears in question were not equipped with visual senses capable of focusing upon the microscopic, we can safely conclude that the teddy bears had no knowledge that they were acting as vectors for the virus (sadly, it is unlikely many of the bears even knew what a virus is). Second, the bear must be acting with the intent to harm the child. The show made clear that the bears were merely intending to hug and comfort young children. Third, the bears must have the ability to choose an alternative course of action. While bears are capable of a great many feats, they are largely at the mercy of the people surrounding them. The bears did not choose to associate with the infected nurse, she picked them up. They did not choose to cuddle with children having compromised immune systems, the nurse placed the bears in the arms of the child. The bears were unable to alter the course of the events. All three conditions would have to be true in order for the teddy bears to be to blame for the sickness of the children. Yet, not a single one of them is the case and teddy bears must be considered innocent bystanders.

In contrast, the doctor could see the viruses, as evidence by the zoom from the camera from the doctor's perspective (either that, or the narrative perspective was sloppy). While the doctor and the hospital may not have directly intended to infect the newborns with the virus, it is the duty of the doctor to foresee reasonable hazards patients may encounter. Hiring typhoid Mary was clearly not in the best interests of anyone. Exposing newborns to a crazy lady coughing onto teddy bears is self-evidently a bad idea to any sentient creature with a basic familiarity with the theory of germs. Negligence meets the intent criterion. Finally, the doctor and the hospital could have not hired the disease ridden nurse, kept her away from the maternity ward, provided teddy bears to older children and not newborns, and bathed the bears more frequently. In short, all three criteria are met by the doctor, none by the bears.

It would be nice if the network would apologize for the scurrilous slander towards teddy bears. However, I have learned not to expect network television to concern itself with truth. Sigh.


Blogger Wagsy said...


Victoria emailed us with important medical news. She writes that "a recent study on doctor's ties identified pathogens on 40% and they believe that the ties can transmit infections from patient to patient. These innocent teddy bears should be left out tv drama and the shows should concentrate on real news like the ties." Ummm, I couldn't have said it better. Clearly we have a biased media in this country.

5:38 PM  

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