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"And The Band Played On" Review
"And The Band Played On"
“And the Band Played On” was an extraordinarily powerful movie giving a detailed account of the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic in the United States through the eyes of many different individuals. Several moral and ethical dilemmas were presented during the initial outbreak which is viewed by today’s standards as absurd and unacceptable. Awareness of AIDS has skyrocketed because of gripping portrayals, such as this movie.
The worst ethical dilemma, in my opinion, is regarding the safety of the blood supply. It is morally reprehensible that any medical professional would oppose testing the blood supply for the viability of the blood product. Running a cost-benefit analysis when the public’s safety is at jeopardy is completely wrong. Lives could have been saved, specifically the cases mentioned in the movie. The woman who had heart surgery and the numerous hemophiliacs who received blood transfusions were all infected with AIDS because the doctors representing the government and other institutions refused to financially back the simple blood test. Don Francis discovered that the Hepatitis B test administered to the blood was 88% effective in discovering contaminated blood. Even with this information, no steps were taken to combat the problem and people that never should have been exposed were to the HIV virus. After several years of stonewalling for this specific test, the medical field finally relented and realized that the public would not continue to sit back while nothing was done. The safety of the blood supply should have been a top priority during the AIDS outbreak because it was for overall public good to test the blood.
Another example of shoddy medical ethics was the disagreement between the French and American research teams attempting to discover the virus and find some sort of cure. Dr. Robert Gallo and the team of French researchers at the Pasteur Institute were both racing for the “glory” of being the first to discover the virus and a cure. With discovering the HIV virus, the scientist that did so would most likely become world renowned and win a Nobel Prize in Medicine. “And the Band Played On” portrayed Dr. Robert Gallo as the primary antagonist affecting the medical progress of the HIV virus. His speech was called phony by the protagonist, Dr. Francis, and he withheld valuable samples of the virus from the Centers for Disease Control. After the Pasteur Institute researchers firmly discovered the virus, Dr. Gallo attempted to take credit for it himself, then tried to “share” the credit for research that was not his own. When the world is facing an impeding epidemic, than researchers need to put aside their own egos and work together to try to develop a cure for the people afflicted with it. The outbreak of the HIV virus in the early 1980’s is the perfect example of when scientists need to unite for the greater good.
Dr. Don Francis, the primary main character in the movie, practiced Kantian ethics. He believed firmly that all patients that were infected were entitled to the same level of treatment, regardless of who they were. Everyone was infected with the same disease and therefore they are all to be treated equally. This occurred again, especially after people that were not homosexual men became infected. While Dr. Francis and others at the CDC were practicing this, it took many years before other doctors and nurses began to do that as well. A large reason as to why many did not practice Kantian ethics is because the nature of AIDS was not known to people yet. The vast majority of people did not know how HIV was transmitted and a social stigma was carried by those infected with it.
Dr. Francis and other CDC doctors exercised Kantian ethics when dealing with all of the initial patients that they had. Whether it was the French airline steward or the Broadway choreographer, Dr. Francis and company were completely professional and upfront about what they knew. They even attempted to warn the large gay population in San Francisco about the danger of the public bathhouses, although their pleas were ignored by the crowd. Compared to other medical professionals during this time period, their character, via their moral philosophy, was impeccable and a model for others to follow.
The most shocking antagonist in the entire movie to stopping the cure was the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC gave little money to the researchers seeking to discover the virus and find a cure for it. After AIDS began to effect average people throughout the United States and not just homosexual men, then more money was given for funding. Because of this action, case-based reasoning seems to have been the CDC’s moral philosophy when dealing with the outbreak. When gays were affected, AIDS was ignored by the average American and very little attention was given to it. After hemophiliacs, babies born with it, and anyone who received a blood transfusion were infected with HIV; people started to pay attention. AIDS was referred to multiple times in the movie as “gay cancer.” The connotation given to it influenced the treatment given to the initial infected patients, based on their sexual orientation. Medical ethics should not be practiced because of this, but unfortunately it sometimes is and this is a golden example of that. Now that the facts of HIV and how it is transmitted has been given to the mainstream populace, the problems based on misconceptions have been eliminated.
While “And the Band Played On” raised important questions about HIV and awareness among those who watched the movie, it also revealed a few disturbing things too. Doctors who jockey for the glory rather than find a cure or refusing to test the blood supply for the overall public good or practice case based ethics due to sexual orientation is appalling. Disturbing trends that were shown to have been practiced in the 1980’s have hopefully changed among current physicians. In the future, personal feelings and animosity need to be put aside so that humanity can work together to present senseless death and illness among those who do not often have a voice.