Desperate Housewives Slur Has More Serious Implications

By Philip S. Chua, M.D., FACS, FPCS


A terrible slur against Filipino physicians and the Philippine medical schools was made by lead actress Teri Hatcher's character, Susan, in the trashy TV sitcom "Desperate Housewives" aired on ABC7 Sunday last week. As expected, Filipinos in the United States and their American friends and patients, and Filipinos in the Philippines and around the world, were up in arms. A massive letter and global email writing campaign ensued.

But the deplorable incident had a positive side to it. It gave the Filipinos an opportunity (a justifiable excuse to "brag") to let the world know great the quality and caliber of the Filipinos physicians around the globe.

The letter of protest below, which was sent Monday morning following the Sunday premier of the episode in question to the Walt Disney Company and to the President of ABC, partly highlighted the integrity, competence, respect, and admiration many Americans, including top US government officials, have for the Filipino physicians.

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This is to call your attention to a derogatory and inflammatory statement attributed to actress Teri Hatcher, who was quoted as having said (as a part of her script on Desperate Housewives), "Okay before we go any further, can I check these diplomas? Just to make sure that they aren't, like, from some med school in the Philippines."

The scene showed Teri Hatcher's character (Susan) at a hospital, being told by her gynecologist that she might be hitting menopause. The statement quoted above was what she said after hearing what her gynecologist told her.

There are more than 20,000 Filipino physicians in the United States , who are caring for the Americans and other people in this country. Before they are licensed to practice in whichever State they may be, they had to pass a competency exam, a medical board exam, go through internship and residency training in the USA, some of them, for a total of seven to 8 years. Then they had to take two more rigid exams for their specialty and subspecialty. Actually, they take more exams than American graduates do, before they are licensed in the United States.

There are hundreds of Filipino-Americans who are high ranking professors in the academe, in training hospitals, teaching and training young American medical graduates. The statistics show that, proportionately, there more Filipino physicians who are specialists and sub-specialists in the United States, compared to American graduates.

We learned as a consequence of all this that one of the anesthesiologists of President Reagan when he was operated on for gunshot wound was a Filipino; the physician who was consulted by American physicians and who treated President Reagan for an infection while he was in office was a Filipina; and that one of the physicians of former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore was a Filipina.

And all you have to do is to ask those millions and millions of American patients of Filipino-American physicians in the United States to find out about their competence, performance, compassion, and bedside manner. You might even be surprised that many of the Americans would rather be under the care of Filipino-American physicians.

While we know that Teri Hatcher only read what was on her script, she should have known better. We vehemently condemn the insulting and degrading implication of the statement in question as written by the insensitive and evidently racist screen writer and the callousness and negligence of the producers and your network to have allowed it to air.

We are hereby demanding for a public apology from Disney/ABC7, the screen writer, who penned that statement, from Teri Hatcher, and from the producers of the show. They have maligned and insulted our country and the Filipino physicians, who, by any measure, had more education than Teri Hatcher, or any of you involved in this senseless incident.

The ball is in your court.

Philip S. Chua, M.D., FACS, FPCS
Filipino United Network (USA)

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The letters from the Honorable Willy C. Gaa, Philippine Ambassador to the United States, the Honorable Cecilia B. Rebong, Philippine Consulate General, New York, Dr. Francisco Duque III, Secretary of Health, and from the Philippine Medical Association and various Filipino-American associations in the United States, like the APPA, NaFFAA, NAFCON, and many medical alumni organizations have led The Walt Disney Company, who owns ABC, to release this public apology: "The producers of 'Desperate Housewives' and ABC Studios offer our sincere apologies for any offense caused by the brief reference in the season premier. There was no intent to disparage the integrity of any aspect of the medical community in the Philippines."

This apology sounded insincere, superficial and hollow. For the gravity of the slur made and televised throughout the world, the Filipinos and the Philippines deserve no less than a more earnest and meaningful apology from Disney/ABC network aired during a future episode of Desperate Housewives, and a pledge not to ever allow any statement, even a joke, that would impugn the integrity and honor of the Filipinos and their country.

To this demand, I would add the suggestion of my son, Phil, Jr., who is a surgeon, that Disney/ABC media groups produce a historical documentary about the Filipino physicians in the United States over the past fifty years, one that will deal with their trials and tribulations, vital role in the academe teaching American medical students, interns and residents in training centers in the United States, their significant accomplishments and contributions to the healthcare of America, and reactions from their American peers and American patients.

Doing this will lend more redence and sincerity to their apology, and at the same time provide truthful and factual information for the American public, and the world, about the Filipino physicians in the United States, the nation where truth is as sacred as individual reputation and honor themselves.

I have the suspicion that the final episode in this raging tele-drama is yet to come.



Part of this Commentary appeared in the Cebu Daily New and Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Copyright 1998 Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS
All Rights Reserved