Radio: Test Case on Debbie Purdy and assisted suicide

27 February 2019

Two related programmes on BBC Radio 4, available now on BBC Sounds until 28 March 2019

Test Case: Debbie Purdy

Debbie Purdy was a journalist who fell in love with a Cuban jazz musician, just as she discovered that she had primary progressive MS. Years later, their love led to a legal challenge in the House of Lords. Debbie was asking for the law to be clarified. If her condition meant she needed an assisted death, would her husband be likely to be prosecuted? Debbie’s book “It’s Not Because I Want To Die”, a gutsy account of love, life and facing death, is dramatised by Joy Wilkinson, and features the music of Debbie’s husband, Omar Puente.

Test Case: The Legacy of Debbie Purdy

So what became of Debbie Purdy and her husband Omar, who inspired her case? Why did Debbie’s legal battle, which happened 10 years ago, have such an impact? Deborah Bowman discusses these questions with the people who were there: her husband, Omar Puente, her solicitor, Saimo Chahal, and Lord Falconer, the barrister and Labour peer who campaigned on the issue in Parliament.


Radio: In the child’s best interests on BBC Radio 4

4 December 2018

BBC Radio 4, Sunday 9 December 2018, 17.00 GMT or via BBC Sounds

This programme features KCL MA Medical Ethics and Law alumnae Victoria Butler-Cole and Sarah Barclay, co-founder (with alumnus Dr Simon Meller) and Director of the Medical Mediation Foundation.

How and when should the decision be made to end the life of a critically ill child?

The BBC’s Medical Correspondent Fergus Walsh reflects on the legal and ethical challenges raised by controversial and emotionally charged cases, like those of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans.

Their impact reverberated around the world, prompting protests on the streets, an outpouring of emotion on social media and the vilification of hospital staff. Even the US President and the Vatican got involved. Though these cases were very different, in each the parents were locked in a bruising battle with the hospital for the right to make decisions about how and where to treat their children.

The current legal test focuses on what is in the child’s best interests and, in court, the hospital, the parents and the child all have separate legal representation.

But the potentially adversarial nature of the court system and the presence of ferocious debate on social media means these intensely difficult decisions can became even more emotionally charged.

The programme examines whether it’s possible to improve the current system, to prevent more cases reaching court and whether the legal process itself could be improved.


Radio: The Changing Face of Procreation

26 September 2018

BBC World Service, available via the iPlayer

Anyone with enough money, be they female, male, gay, straight, single or in a relationship now has the opportunity to try for a baby of their own. By the end of the century, an estimated 157 million people alive or 1.4 % of the world’s population will owe their lives to assisted reproductive technologies like IVF, donor eggs and sperm and surrogacy.

So how are people around the world using these innovations? And how well is society doing in getting to grips with the ethical questions that go hand in hand with the creation of life of in these ways.

The New World Of Reproduction

In part one, Krupa Padhy examines where we have got to after 40 years of IVF. In England, she visits a family made up of white British parents and their three boys, plus a ‘snow baby’: created during an IVF cycle for her Indian-American genetic parents, but adopted as an embryo by her birth family. She hears from ethicists and law makers from around the world about how countries have struggled to adapt to new technological realities, and discovers stories that challenge ideas of what IVF is for, like that of an Indian woman who used her dead son’s sperm to create grandchildren.

Assisted Reproduction

How humans make babies could be about to change, thanks to advances in IVF and reproductive technology. Krupa Padhy meets the new kinds of families that could become the norm, and explores how reproductive technology may soon alter the way all of us make babies.


Radio: An Instinct for Kindness

26 March 2018

BBC Radio 4, available via the iPlayer until 30 March 2018

The powerful and personal account of how Chris Larner was asked by his ex-wife if he would accompany her to Dignitas to die when her illness became too much for her to bear. Adapted from his one man stage show.


Radio: ‘Neurolaw and Order’ on the BBC World Service

9 December 2017
Neurolaw and Order, available now online and as a podcast

The latest findings in neuroscience are increasingly affecting the justice system in America. Owen Jones, professor of law and biology at Vanderbilt University, explores where neurolaw is making its mark and where the discipline is heading.

One significant finding from MRI scanners is that the adolescent brain continues to develop right into the early- and mid-twenties. The fact that we are not ‘adults’ at age 18 is having big repercussions in the legal system.

In San Francisco, the entire way that young offenders of crimes such as armed robbery up to the age of 25 are treated is adapting to the brain data.

More and more, neuroscientists are testifying in courts, often to mitigate sentences including the death penalty in juveniles. Other times, they highlight rare brain abnormalities that cause violent and antisocial behaviour, which helps justify a lighter sentence.

However, young brains are still malleable. In Wisconsin, brain imaging of juvenile prisoners can detect psychopathic markers. Once identified, staff can employ techniques to de-programme those antisocial traits and rehabilitate prisoners to ready them for, they hope, a crime-free life outside.

And this is simply the first generation of neurolaw – where to next?


Radio: iPM on a patient with capacity having her life-sustaining pacemaker deactivated

27 September 2016

Last year, the Radio 4 programme iPM ran an item about an adult patient with capacity seeking to have her pacemaker deactivated:

“Who can make decisions about a pacemaker once it’s in my body?’ – After a listener got in touch with an ethical dilemma, we explore what the UK law says about switching off pacemakers and other implanted medical devices.”

Last week, the programme updated the story with details of the deactivation and eventual death of the patient.

“The listener who fought for her pacemaker to be turned off and the US doctor who helps to stop his dying patients’ hearts.”

 

 


Comment: Advance decisions to refuse treatment (ADRT) forms in dementia

16 July 2014
I’ve done a little research on advance decisions to refuse treatment (ADRT) forms in dementia for an upcoming BBC Radio 4 episode of Inside the ethics committee, to be broadcast on 31 July 2014 at 9am.
 
The Alzheimer’s Society have a form and a fact-sheet. Dementia Care also has some information on their website which includes a link to an Age UK factsheet.
 
Personally, I prefer the Compassion in Dying form (plus accompanying guidance notes) to the Alzheimer’s Society form. The main reason for this is that the triggering condition for the refusal (i.e. when the refusal is to become effective) is rather strange in the Alzheimer’s Society form. It’s when ‘the gravity of my condition/suffering is such that treatment seems to be causing distress beyond any possible benefit’. The goal of an ADRT is to refuse treatment which others would or might think is in your best interests (otherwise there’s little point – if everyone agrees the treatment is not in your best interests then it would not be lawful to give it under the Mental Capacity Act 2005). This triggering condition doesn’t seem to me to leave much (if any) scope for this. If the treatment causes distress beyond any possible benefit then it is hard to see how it could be given as it would not be in your best interests. The balancing of burdens against benefits is exactly what the courts (and the Mental Capacity Act Code of Practice) require in order to reach a decision on your best interests.
 
You can contrast this with the triggering conditions (there is a choice) in the Compassion in Dying form, the most relevant one of which is: ‘I suffer serious impairment of the mind or brain with little or no prospect of recovery together with a physical need for life-sustaining treatment/interventions’. Here it is quite possible that different people will have different views on whether life-sustaining treatment is in your best interests as the ADRT will be triggered (in dementia patients) once their condition constitutes a serious impairment and there is little or no prospect of recovery. So the ADRT will have a role to play.
 
Compassion in Dying also have a free phone line you can call to get help in filling out the form; details are provided within the form as well as on their website.
 
NB: Compassion in Dying has a relationship with Dignity in Dying. They are separate organisations but they work out of the same offices.