Dr. Christopher Duntsch is the type of doctor who probably would give the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele chills. If there was ever a true-life mad doctor, it would be Duntsch.
But most movies or TV shows about mad doctors often portray them as vain physicians trying to make new headways in healthcare and medicine. They’re always talking about how the ends justify the means. But Duntsch is only in it for himself.
The eight-part limited series Dr. Death on Peacock is a somewhat long, a little redundant look at the life of Duntsch and the tireless efforts of a handful of people willing to stop them even if it meant complete ostracization amongst their peers. This series could’ve very easily been reduced to six episodes but the extra episodes only reinforce how much of an awful person Duntsch is and the damage he did to people despite all these problems.
And that’s what is so distributing about this case, Duntsch was allowed to continue to operate on people and more or less butcher their insides out of fear that no one wanted to say the Emperor has no clothes. After sitting through this series based on the popular podcast about the Dallas-area surgeon (using that term lightly), you may never want to enter a hospital ever again.
Joshua Jackson plays Duntsch with a great cocky pig-headed arrogance about being the best. Most surgeons have to pay their dues. They go through med schools, do their residencies and consider it a great honor to scrub in to assist with a more established and respected surgeons. Most of them don’t get to do their own surgeons until many years later practicing medicine.
My ex had many surgeries and many of the doctors were well into their 40s and 50s. They had hundreds if not thousands of surgeries under their belts that they could go into any surgery with total simplicity.
Duntsch isn’t that type of person. Through a lot of red tape and fear of being shunned by others in the medical community, Duntsch bounces around from hospital to hospital with an outrageous turnover rate that any other professional wouldn’t want on their record.
Duntsch lives a life of hedonism outside the operating room, where he has sex with his colleagues, does massive amounts of cocaine, alcohol and other substance abuse. He’s a neurosurgeon doctor. He thinks he’s the cock of the walk and everyone around him should just get out of the way.
Also, hospitals were making a lot of money with what would’ve been elective surgeries and only have a small cap of liability. They’d make more even if there were complications from paying off the lawsuits.
If you think there is a reason Duntsch is the way he is, the series doesn’t really delve into it. Maybe some people are just terrible. And Duntsch was one of them.
There’s a little bit of his history as he tried to play football in college and there is some hostility between his parents who never believed in him. Just because someone can ace an MCAT exam doesn’t exactly mean they can be good doctors.
Two doctors Robert Henderson (Alec Baldwin) and Randall Kirby (Christian Slater) step up and relentlessly pursue anything they can not only to get his license revoked but to make sure he never practices medicine again anywhere and is held accountable.
Baldwin plays Henderson as the more mature, more professional doctor who came in to fix a botched surgery Duntsch made in which not only was part of a man’s esophagus cut but a sponge was left in. It’s a change of pace for Baldwin who mostly is known for playing cocky and arrogant men. I just watched him the other day in Malice in which he played a doctor with a “God complex.” Seeing Baldwin actually play much nicer guys is a welcome change.
Slater plays Kirby with the same cocky arrogance Duntsch has but at least it’s all business and a serious demeanir when he’s in the operating room. I don’t know if Kirby is really like this in real life or they embellished his persona to counter Duntsch. Doctors are different people. Some have good bedside manner. Others talk so much technical babble, you’re not even sure what they said even if they used X-rays to explain it.
If I was under the knife, I would want a surgeon who has done this at least 1,000 times before. I wouldn’t care what their bedside manner is. Duntsch has neither the bedside manner nor skills.
As they try repeatedly to get someone to pay attention, they find a worthy ally in a young assistant district attorney, Michelle Shughart (AnnaSophia Robb), who successfully prosecutes him. The hurdles she faces is overcoming the difference between an intentional botched surgery and a mistake.
That’s what makes the case so fascinating. There’s so much room for reasonable doubt for someone to say, “Well, our bodies are different.” Kirby and Henderson help Shughart go after Duntsch even though they know they could be putting their careers on the line.
If anything else, this should make you very angry how doctors and physicians can botch a surgery and literally wash the blood off their hands and leave it up to their lawyers to settle.
We hold doctors to higher standards and while, yes, I believe in what they do and it’s necessary, but you wonder how far of leniency will we give them before the bodies start piling up?
If anything else, this should be a reminder to anyone to admit that if you can’t do something, you shouldn’t do it.