Oh for the halcyon days of “Kidneygate,” the all-consuming discourse spawned by a New York Times article that briefly took over the internet in October. That story, which involved one writer accusing another of using her real-life kidney donation tale as the basis for a prizewinning short story, seemed filled with intrigue at the time, but there’s a new writer kidney article in town—one that makes Bad Art Friend look like Great Art Besties.
With their engrossing and terrifying two-part investigation of Grey’s Anatomy writer Elisabeth Finch, Vanity Fair has revealed a tale that involves alleged trauma-theft, one of the worst hate crimes in American history, multiple potentially fake illnesses, Anna Paquin, and yes, a kidney.
In March, the story broke that Elisabeth Finch, a writer on Grey’s Anatomy, had been suspended and was under investigation by her employer amid allegations that she’d lied to her colleagues about living with cancer, a story so central to her time on the show that it had been written into the series. She’d also written personal essays for publications including The Hollywood Reporter, Elle, and Shondaland about harrowing experiences like workplace verbal abuse, navigating doctors who dismissed her illness and pain, and having an abortion after becoming pregnant while undergoing cancer treatment. Shonda and the rest of the Grey’s team first learned of the claim that Finch was a serial fabulist from Jennifer Beyer, Finch’s soon-to-be-ex wife, adding a messy divorce layer to an already very messy tale.
The Vanity Fair report, however, adds a ton of new eye-popping details. On the relatively light end of the spectrum, a Grey’s coworker told VF that Finch had reported having received a kidney transplant, and that Anna Paquin, whom Finch had worked with as a writer for True Blood, “was to thank.” Does this mean that Finch is accused of saying that Paquin gave her a kidney, or set off a donation chain that resulted in a kidney for Finch? Who knows! Likely not, it seems, Paquin herself—another source told VF that the actor didn’t “have anything to do with Finch’s kidneys.”
The story gets a lot darker from there. Finch reportedly told her fellow writers at Grey’s that she’d been friends with one of the victims in the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, which left 11 people dead in a horrifying act of anti-Semitic violence. She also reportedly said and tweeted that she’d helped clean up her friend’s remains after the murders. Vanity Fair checked with the two Jewish burial organizations that actually did clean up after the shooting, and reported that neither one said someone named Elisabeth Finch was involved.
As nauseating as that particular story is, Beyer’s report of her relationship with Finch is also deeply grim. The pair met while receiving mental health treatment for PTSD, which had been caused by severe domestic violence at the hands of her husband, in Beyer’s case, and had been caused by the Pittsburg shooting in Finch’s—or at least, that’s what she told her colleagues. They became friends, then married. However, at some point after the wedding, Beyer began suspecting that Finch was lying about her health history and stealing details of Beyer’s traumatic biography and using them for her own purposes. Finch reportedly told her Grey’s colleagues that the violence Beyer received at the hands of her husband, who later died by suicide, had actually been harm done to Finch by her brother. She also claimed that her brother had taken his own life.(VF reported that after Beyer tipped Shonda off, the Grey’s team discovered that Finch’s brother was actually alive and well.) Beyer alleges that after confronting Finch with inconsistencies in her story, Finch confessed to family and friends that she’d made up her illnesses and involvement in the Pittsburgh tragedy.
Finch’s employer ABC is no longer investigating her, according to the Vanity Fair feature, as she’s taken a leave of absence. Finch and Beyer are still in the midst of divorcing. Elle has disappeared Finch’s personal essays from its website, though her pieces for THR and Shondaland are still standing. Public statements from Finch’s lawyer have sought to cast doubt on Beyer’s story, and he told VF that the pair’s “highly contentious divorce” made Beyer a less than reliable source. Finch herself isn’t talking, which means that the full story isn’t, and may never be, totally clear. After all this, representatives from Shondaland might have put it best when they told THR that, “Only Elisabeth can speak to her personal story.”