What Mad Men’s Betty Draper-Francis Can Teach Us About Paternalism in Medicine

Ethics and Society

January Jones as Betty Draper-Francis on AMC's Mad Men. January Jones as Betty Draper-Francis on AMC’s Mad Men.

By: Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

The penultimate episode of AMC’s Mad Men provided an all-too-familiar portrayal of the paternalistic nature of medicine via the handling of Betty Draper-Francis’s diagnosis of lung cancer. While the episode takes place in 1970 and there has since been a gradual shift to a more patient-centered approach in medicine, it offers a glimpse into power imbalances in medical care that still can occur today.

When Betty’s new classmates bring her to the emergency room, the first words out of the doctor’s mouth are “Mrs. Francis, is it possible to get your husband down here?” Betty assumes it is for the purpose of driving her home, but the doctor assures her that it is, in fact, for the purpose of explaining her condition to her husband, Henry, either prior to or at the same time…

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