Very few doctors would view altruism as a symptom. But it is no surprise that the cynical Dr. Gregory House, on the road back to his “normal” (for him, anyway) would see it that way. Wentworth Miller (Prison Break) plays Benjamin, the overly generous patient of the week in “Charity Case,” episode three of House, M.D.’s eighth season.
Of course House is right, eventually, anyway. Ben owns a computer company. A wealthy man, he endeavors to pay it forward by giving away pretty much everything he owns—including both of his kidneys—just for the asking. No one quite believes House, suggesting that his ingrained cynicism fuels his refusal to believe in Benjamin’s kindness for kindness sake.
The week’s case provides an interesting context for examining motivation, generosity and even an ethical relativism that creates conflict between House and Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard). Conventional wisdom would suggest that Benjamin’s altruism is kindness and caring—selflessness, albeit a tad extreme
But giving gifts, small and large, monetary and less tangible, can be viewed from a more self-serving point of view: it makes us happy to make others happy. “It’s better to give than receive,” says an old proverb. But why? Giving becomes a balm for an unhappy soul—or an attempt to buy a little happiness. That’s the prism through which the chronically cynical House would view it, anyway: generosity as selfish selflessness; altruism with an agenda.
But at this point, House is mostly just trying to get back to his life. Giving himself a much needed haircut (and I’m loving the fact that The Powers That Be have decided not to cover his thinning hair this season), House is a new man—or not. The haircut symbolizes House’s re-entry into his universe: familiar hair, familiar toys—and though he’s not successful, he wants to surround himself with familiar physicians with whom to brainstorm.
Opportunistic ex-con with a sob story looking to re-fund his defunded diagnostics department, House sees a potential mark in Benjamin—at least that what he admits to his pathologically generous patient. As House grapples with the ethics of taking money from a patient whom he believes not to be in his right mind, Wilson does his Jiminy Cricket routine, reminding House about things he already knows (but sometimes needs to hear from his more morally straightforward friend. House knows that he cannot ethically take money from Benjamin, no matter what the purpose—or motives. On the other hand, Wilson’s own ethics go out the window when Benjamin offers to donate kidney (and then two!)