English 1130: Academic Writing

Boston Legal

Dialogue - Evaluation Sample


Boston Legal: “The Mighty Rogues” (Season 4, Episode 16, April 17, 2008, written by David Kelley, Lawrence Broch, Jill Goldsmith). The following two scenes are in a court room.

Scene 1 (starting at 14:00)

Shirley Schmidt [played by Candice Bergen]: He [her father] doesn't wanna live like this. His mind is rotting away, much of it's already gone, his organs are shutting down, he's incontinent. The indignity is beyond words.

Alan Shore [Shirley’s lawyer, played by James Spader]: When your father was competent, did you two ever discuss…

Shirley: We did. He signed a living will. He did not wanna be kept alive by extraordinary means…

AAG [Assistant Attorney General] Jeremy Hollis: But we're not talking about keeping him alive with any extraordinary means. You're here asking for permission to euthanize him.

Shirley: My father is in extreme discomfort, I'm asking to manage his pain with morphine.

AAG: Yes. You have to couch it in those terms to get the court order. But, Ms. Schmidt, you're not denying what this is really about, are you?

Shirley: Are you denying this happens all the time under the heading of pain management?

AAG: When there is actual pain to manage. But here your father isn't in any real physical discomfiture. He's probably not even aware of his mental state. The pain we're talking about managing here is yours.

Shirley: First of all, my father suffers from broken ribs. He is in pain. Second, the agitation he experiences, the fear, the anxiety, are an extreme form of discomfiture, Mr. Hollis. Please do not suggest to me that he does not anguish.

Dr. Giles Bromfield [on the witness stand]: Well, the fact of the matter is we can now manage his pain quite effectively without morphine. And we are, with codeine. The other fact… He stops.

AAG: Is what, sir?

Dr.: Well, the pain we're talking about is from injuries that will heal. In cases where morphine drips have been turned up with fatal results… it's irreversible pain. Which, I certainly sympathize with the family's position, if it were my father I would probably wanna do the same thing. But the law simply doesn't allow it.

Alan Shore: I read an article that said people in comas can actually experience physical pain. Is that true?

Dr.: Yes.

Alan: Do you think it's possible that a conscious person could be experiencing pain but because of his advanced mental deterioration that he be incapable of communicating that pain?

Dr.: I suppose it's possible.

Alan: So if a doctor, say, wanted to make such a finding, let's say the patient was his own father say, he might be able to find pain, prescribe the morphine, and nobody could state to a reasonable medical certainty that he was wrong.

Dr.: I'd like to think that my medical ethics would prevent me from doing that.

Alan: I see. So, in your opinion the medically ethical thing to do here is let this person's brain continue to rot until all his vital organs shut down, he shrinks to 85 pounds, his esophagus closes up so he can no longer eat and he begins to suffer grand mal seizures. These are the ethics you bring to this court room today?

Scene 2 (starting at 25:25)

Alan: This is not a new debate, but the fact that we still continue to have the debate in this country baffles me. People are helped to die every single day in virtually every hospital. In the hospices, at home, all under the wink-wink of pain management. And yet every time someone suggests bringing this practice out of the closet opponents leap up screaming, "There's potential for abuse!" "We'll end up killing people who wanna live!" Come on! If there's potential for abuse then by all means let's regulate it. Have an administrative hearing, or go to court like we're doing now. But there's much more potential for abuse when we do it secretly!

AAG: No, no, no. There's a good reason for the secrecy. The last thing we want to do is to cultivate a culture of suicide. Almost twenty percent of today's teenagers contemplate taking their own lives at one time or another. Recent five-year analysis showed a twenty percent rise in suicides among middle-aged people. It's becoming epidemic! Not the time to lift the stigma.

Alan: We would not be sending the message that…

AAG: Oh yes we would, Mr. Shore. You make it permissible, that's one step closer to making it acceptable. And the real danger is that elderly parents start thinking maybe it's their duty to spare their children so they won't drain their finances.

Alan: This would not be that case.

AAG: Could be tomorrow's case.

Alan: Which is why we take it on a case by case basis. Addressing all the concerns you raised, but why must we have an absolute blanket ban when it causes such immeasurable suffering? For so many!

Judge Victoria Peyton: Because it's not potential for abuse that's really in play, Counsel. Let's all admit that. It's politics. And the legislator gets to make the laws. Not the Judges.

Alan: But it's for the Judges to safeguard the constitution, included therein is our fundamental right to privacy. Can there be anything more private, more personal than the destiny of one's own body? One's life. It's also for the Judges to step in and be humane when a gutless, politically expedient Congress refuses to do so. My God, we put dogs to sleep! To spare their needless suffering. Why don't we extend the same compassion to human beings? This man is terminal. He will die. He fears people. All people. He can't control his bowels. He is in utter lack of cognizance and an inability to have any meaningful exchange or even contact. Would you choose to live like that? Would anybody?

AAG: To allow assisted suicide is to say that life itself has no intrinsic value. No sanctity.

Alan: Oh baloney! I'm saying Walter Schmidt's life in its current state has no intrinsic value. He lies in his bed with no apparent capacity to discern or think. His days have devolved into a horrible cycle of soiling his bed sheets and screaming incoherently at the very touch of the nurse who cleans him. His life is a misery. I'm sorry, there is no sanctity in that. I don't care what… [He leans over the table to compose himself. He goes to his chair, closes his binder and chuckles derisively. To Jeremy Hollis softly:] I'm sorry. [He takes a moment to compose himself]. My best friend [Denny, played by William Shatner] has Alzheimer's. In the very early stages, it hasn't… He is a grand lover of life, and will be for some time. I believe even when his mind starts to really go he'll still fish, he'll laugh, and love. And as it progresses he'll still wanna live because there'll be value for him in a friendship, in a cigar. The truth is, I don't think he'll ever come to me and say, "This is the day I want to die." But the day is coming. And he won't know it. This is perhaps the most insidious thing about Alzheimer's. But you see, he trusts me to know when that day has arrived. He trusts me to safeguard his dignity, his legacy and self-respect. He trusts me to prevent his end from becoming a mindless piece of mush. And I will. It will be an unbearably painful thing for me but I will do it because I love him. I will end his suffering. Because it's the only decent, humane, and loving thing a person can do. Ms. Schmidt is here today because she loves her father. She's asking you to show mercy that the law refuses to.

AAG: She is asking you to play God.

Alan: Your Honor, whatever one's belief in God, I know we can all agree, some lives are taken far too early, and others far too late. [He sits. So does Jeremy Hollis. And back in the last row of the courtroom, unnoticed, sits Denny.]

Judge Victoria Peyton: I really don't believe in playing God. I do believe in God, by the way. I believe there's a sanctity to every human life. The idea that doctors and relatives get to start weighing the quality of a given life to decide who shall live, who shall die. It horrifies me. And I see tremendous potential for abuse. But there is no suggestion of such abuse here. Mr. Schmidt is terminal, his condition is irreversible, he is suffering. The law allows patients to refuse medical treatment even when to do so means death. It allows the disconnection of nutrition and hydration tubes thereby basically starving the person to death. What rational distinction can there be for not allowing a more humane method? The plaintiff's motion is granted.  Ms. Schmidt? My prayers are with you. [Shirley mouths, "Thank you."] Adjourned. [She pounds her gavel and leaves.]

Evaluation Sample

The following dialogue is colour-coded according to evaluative categories. In class we’ll do a level 1 evaluation — that is, an analysis that stays within the dramatic context. For instance, it doesn’t bring in research on the validity of the statistical, medical, or legal assertions of the lawyers.

Q. How does the expressive mode complement the argumentative? Another way of approaching this question is by asking two separate questions: 1. How is the TV audience affected by the structure of the two scenes? 2. How is the judge affected by Alan’s arguments in the two scenes? Once you see the difference between the two questions, you can make an argument about how the former complements the latter.

Q. How do the writers and directors combine description and pathos? How does Alan counter slippery slope?

Write a thesis statement arguing why the second scene is effective or convincing.

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