The Doctor’s Dilemma – a century later

28th September 2012 by Judith Harvey

Bernard Shaw wrote The Doctor’s Dilemma in 1906. What dilemma was he interested in, and how relevant is it today?

Sir Colenso Ridgeon is a distinguished doctor who has discovered a cure for TB using opsonins. He finds himself obliged to choose between treating a worthy colleague who is the one doctor in the play who looks after the poor at the expense of his wallet, and a talented but amoral artist. The artist’s wife pleads for her husband and the doctor’s dilemma is heightened by his realisation that he is attracted to her and would like to marry her should her husband die.

Shaw does not explore the question of professional ethics raised by the romantic attachment. Nor does he resolve the rationing dilemma, presented in terms that were highly contrived even in 1906. He uses these two personalised dramatic conflicts – ‘The Doctor’s Dilemma’ – to construct a platform for expounding his views on contemporary medical practice – ‘The Doctors’ Dilemma’.

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