How ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Doubled Down on Addressing Social Issues

'Grey’s Anatomy' has been including many plot points about important social issues that are often underrepresented on TV shows.

Even in their 14th season, “Grey’s Anatomy” still has a way of pulling at viewers’ heartstrings, regardless of their age.

Recently, the popular show has been using its wide platform to address social issues that aren’t typically seen on most well-known TV programs. The show’s writers have introduced heartfelt and dramatic situations involving their beloved characters to create drama.

Simultaneously, these plots do a great job in shedding light on some of the important social issues of the present day.

Black Lives Matter

In the tenth episode of Season 14, “Grey’s Anatomy” addresses the often-deadly racial bias of law enforcement.

In the episode, a 12-year-old boy named Eric Sterling is brought into the ER with a gunshot wound to the neck from the police. As the surgeons work, they find out that the boy was trying to get into his own house, in a wealthy neighborhood, through a window because he forgot his key.

The police, assuming that he was breaking and entering because of the color of his skin, shot the child as he reached for his cell phone.

This complicated situation sparks many feelings while also hitting close to home for many of the surgeons on the show. Dr. Jackson Avery, particularly, shared his experience as a kid being stopped by police in his own upper-class neighborhood.

Following complications, Sterling ends up dying in surgery. Bleakly, the doctors have to inform his family of his death. After discovering the officers are present, Dr. Avery confronts them, saying “The reaction that you give to a white kid versus a brown kid in that split second? That’s the measurable, fixable difference.”

A later, heartbreaking scene shows the chief of surgery, Dr. Miranda Bailey, and her husband Ben Warren talking to Bailey’s son. They have a harrowing conversation about what to do, as a young black boy, if the police ever stop or approach him.

They tell him to say “I am William George Bailey Jones. I am 13 years old, and I have nothing to harm you” while holding his hands behind his head.

They also advise him “don’t fight back, don’t talk back, don’t make any sudden movements” and to “never, never, never run.” Bailey and Warren tell their child that “your only goal is to get home safely” during this emotional talk.

Domestic Violence

At the end of Season 12 and beginning of Season 13, one of the doctors, Jo Wilson, reveals that she has an abusive husband that she ran away from. In episodes nine and ten of the current “Grey’s Anatomy” season, Wilson’s estranged husband, Paul Stadler, comes to the hospital to sign divorce papers.

This plot line begins when he arrives in the ninth episode, titled “1-800-799-7233.” The title of the episode is also the phone number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Wilson panics and is noticeably and reasonably upset when she sees Stadler. Distressed, she confides to her coworkers, stating that “he takes the truth but he twists and changes it to fit his own story.” When Stadler blames their separation on Wilson’s alleged partying, she retaliates by saying that “he lies about everything.”

Wilson also learns that Stadler has a new fiancé, Jenny, and feels that she should try to help Jenny get out of her unhealthy relationship with Stadler. Upon meeting with Jenny, she opens up to her about the abuse she received from their marriage.

Ultimately, she tells Jenny, “he told me I was wrong so many times that I believed I was wrong. He told me I was crazy so many times that I believed I actually was crazy.”

Although Wilson kindly offered help to her ex-husband’s fiancé, going so far as to give her a card with her cell phone number, Jenny does not initially reciprocate. Indeed, she chooses to leave with Stadler and gives him the card with Wilson’s phone number.

For the next two episodes, Stadler is in the ER after a hit and run. Jenny and Wilson talk, both telling the other that they didn’t do it. Eventually, the two reconcile when Jenny apologizes to Wilson for blowing her off.

As Stadler is unconscious with a concussion in his hospital room, Jenny talks to Wilson, saying how her “circle got smaller and smaller and smaller until all [she] had left was him.” The two women then go into Stadler’s room to confront him, saying they are going to the police and are both going to testify against him.

Jenny tells him, “I’m not going to let you scare me into backing down again. I’m never speaking to you again unless it’s from a witness stand.”

Enraged that the two women are taking a stand against him, Stadler tries to get out of his bed to attack Jenny, but falls and hits his head. After the doctors tend to him and diagnose him, the two women find out he is brain dead.

Ultimately, they are faced with the decision of what to do about his life support. In the end, they decide to donate Stadler’s organs and know that some good came from the situation.

Transgender Issues

Also in “1-800-799-7233” is the presence of a transgender character, Casey Parker. Although he has been a character on “Grey’s Anatomy” for a few episodes, the fact that he is a trans man was not revealed until this episode.

In the plot, Dr. Bailey approaches Parker because he has a background in cybersecurity and because the hospital’s computer system is being hacked. Initially, he states that he is not allowed to manipulate any computer systems because he was caught hacking into the DMV. At first, Parker tells Bailey he hacked the system because his new license was taking too long.

Later on, Bailey allows him to strike back against the hacker, using her laptop and her log-in; his efforts help save the hospital. Parker then tells her that he really hacked into the DMV to change the gender on his driver’s license from female to male.

Parker tells Bailey, “I’m a proud trans man, Dr. Bailey. But I like for people to get to know me before they find out my private medical history.”

Transgender characters have been becoming more apparent on TV shows and in movies. “Grey’s Anatomy” is now joining the more inclusive option with Parker as the show’s first transgender character.

Samantha Jorgens, Central Michigan University

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Samantha Jorgens

Central Michigan University
Journalism: Public Relations Concentration

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