Gallows Humor

Gallows Humor

Doctors and other health care professionals often joke about those issues, which refer to their patients’ health condition. One might ask whether such actions are right and ethical to perform. Despite some claims in favor of banning the use of jokes in medicine, gallows humor causes no harm. Its use is even beneficial in some cases. Gallows humor serves as a response to hopeless situations in which doctors face death. In her article entitled “Gallows Humor in Medicine,” Katie Watson examines the way medical professionals turn daily humor into a part of life-or-death situations. The analysis of Watson’s article “Gallows Humor in Medicine” shows that gallows humor is not only ethical but also a beneficial aspect of conduct as it helps doctors to deliver professional assistance.

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In her article, Katie Watson, who is an American medical researcher, defines the role of humor in the lives of medical professionals. The author focuses on the analysis of gallows humor as her doctor friend told her about his and his colleges’ unsuccessful experience of saving a boy who delivered pizza. While delivering their dinner, the boy was shot. Doctors joked about him and his death. Therefore, Watson tries to determine whether their behavior was right or not. To explore this issue, Watson provides a study of gallows humor in the field of medicine. According to the author, gallows humor is defined as humor that “treats serious, frightening, or painful subject matter in a light or satirical way” (Watson 37). Watson argues that this form of humor is not the same as cruel humor (37). She draws the readers’ attention to the analysis of why people joke and use various kinds of humor, including humor with “a backstage language,” which serves as a uniting aspect among insiders and their jokes. Watson uses the studies of Freud and Cohen to focus on emotional reasons that explain why people joke. According to the author, a joke is defined as a rebellion against the “oppressive authority” (Watson 41). This authority is much more oppressive than such aspects as illness, death, or injury (Watson 41). Overall, laughing and joking may form and affirm intimacy (Watson 39). However, joking, which reveals a complete difference between two parties, may harm relations (Watson 39). The examination of these aspects helps the author of the article to prove her claim that health care professionals should use jokes at their work.

While explaining the role of humor in the lives of medical professionals, Watson claims that many employees, working in the health care industry, usually witness or participate in gallows humor (37). Some health care providers even go overboard and initiate jokes with their patients about those issues, which patients might perceive as frightening and painful (Watson 40). However, sometimes doctors’ joking is successful. In this case, humor helps to establish peer relations and share information about the patients’ health condition (Watson 40). Such jokes usually make both doctors and patients laugh. To study the role of gallows humor in the health care industry, Watson includes Charles Bosk’s claim, according to which gallows humor is a part of strategies that physicians use for solving the problem of uncertainty in treatment and diagnosis (42). The statement proves the fact that gallows humor plays an essential role in the lives of health care providers, including surgeons, anesthesiologists, and pediatricians. “Gallows Humor in Medicine” concludes that the use of jokes about patients’ health problems and their death may be beneficial as it may help health care workers to cope with terrible events and, ultimately, improve the quality of their future performance.

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Personally, I support Katie Watson’s position on the use of gallows humor in medicine, which she explores in her article entitled “Gallows Humor in Medicine.” Watson claims that humor in the health care industry may help to deal with stressful situations and bond doctors with their patients. I agree with the author’s conclusion that laughing may provide both parties with the opportunity to release stress as well as bond with other individuals. One should also agree with the fact that jokes about the patients’ medical condition, which health care providers tell in front of their patients and patients’ family members, are unethical as they have the potential to cause harm. This claim proposed by Watson is a correct one. However, the author is also right when she concludes that doctors should use jokes in their workplace. The joke introduced to readers at the beginning of the article is not wrong as doctors make jokes not about the pizza delivery boy but death in general. As a result, gallows humor not only caused no harm but also helped young doctors “to integrate this terrible event and get through the shift” (Watson 44). In “Gallows Humor in Medicine,” the writer also claims that the joke might have also helped health care professionals to deliver effective treatment to the next patient.

Watson examines the use of gallows humor in the field of medicine and concludes that in case jokes do not have a direct relation to patients, they are not only ethical but also beneficial. I agree with Watson’s claim. Moreover, the author includes a question at the end of the article so that each reader may decide whether health care providers should joke in their workplace or not. Personally, I support Watson and agree that doctors should use gallows humor. The doctors’ joke described at the beginning of the article refers not to the patient but death. This joke does not violate any ethical norms because the patient was not harmed while doctors were giving him medical assistance of high quality. Another significant fact about the joke is that it was not told in front of family members, friends, and other patients as it could have harmed their feelings and emotions. I think that the purpose of the joke was to help one another to cope with the fact that one more person died while they were delivering their assistance to him. As a result, such jokes are beneficial and essential for both health care providers and patients. Doctors should joke because they usually are witnesses to horrific and tragic scenes, in which people face death and try to cope with it. Patients want to see compassionate as well as caring doctors and nurses. However, they do not want to receive medical treatment from a person who is upset by the last patient he or she has seen. Jokes help doctors and nurses to deal with stressful situations and deliver effective medical assistance. Gallows humor in health care establishments may improve both patients’ and doctors’ mood.


In conclusion, taking into consideration the analysis of article “Gallows Humor in Medicine,” gallows humor is not only ethical but also beneficial. Jokes help health care providers to deliver professional assistance, be compassionate to their patients, and cope with stressful and tragic situations. The answer to Watson’s question regarding whether doctors should joke in their workplace should be affirmative as jokes, which are told at the right time and place, are beneficial for both doctors and patients.

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