TV: A world without Down’s Syndrome

3 October 2016

BBC2, Wednesday 5 October 2016, 21.00

Documentary about Down’s syndrome and the ethics of pregnancy screening, fronted by Sally Phillips. This film explores the science and thinking around the proposed new screening test for Down’s syndrome and its possible availability on the NHS.

Driven by the experience of raising her son Olly, who has Down’s syndrome, Sally explores some of the ethical implications of our national screening policy.

By talking to experts in the Down’s syndrome community, the world’s top scientists and including people with Down’s syndrome in the debate, Sally investigates a thorny subject that begs questions relevant to us all: what sort of world do we want to live in and who do we want in it?

The programme has created some controversy in advance of its broadcast. The BBC online magazine contains an interview with the presenter, Sally Phillips. For an opposing view, see yesterday’s Observer.

TV: My New Hand on BBC1

22 February 2013

Tuesday 26 February, 10.35-11.35pm, BBC ONE, and available after broadcast via the iPlayer

From the programme’s website: “On Boxing Day night 2012 surgeons at Leeds Infirmary carried out Britain’s first hand transplant.

This film, made over two years, follows the story from the moment Professor Simon Kay and his team decided to go ahead to the moment the patient was able to move the transplanted hand.

During that time candidates came forward from all over the UK and beyond, including a hairdresser, an IT consultant, a former pub landlord, a DJ and a retired housewife – all of whom had lost the use of at least one of their hands.

But before they could go ahead the doctors had to be sure they were physically and psychologically prepared.

Some decided that the risks – including the potentially life-shortening drugs that would need to be taken for the rest of their life – weren’t worthwhile. Others decided that the misery of living without a hand outweighed everything else.

This thought provoking film is with them as they make their decisions – and with the surgeons as the patient who comes through the process is finally taken into the operating theatre.”

TV: BBC Panorama on communicating with patients suffering from disorders of consciousness

13 November 2012

BBC1, Tuesday 13 November 2012, 22.35-23.35 and available after broadcast via the iPlayer

From the programme’s website: “In a world exclusive, Panorama follows a group of severely brain injured patients and reveals the revolutionary efforts made to help them communicate with their families and the outside world.

Never before filmed, this Panorama Special spent more than a year with a group of vegetative patients in Britain and Canada.

They witness the moment when a patient regarded as vegetative for more than a decade is able to answer a series of questions whilst inside a brain scanner.

The findings have profound implications for the patients and their families, as well as ethical consequences for scientists and medical staff.”

In an earlier post (now updated), I looked at the law governing the withdrawal of artificial nutrition and hydration from patients in vegetative states and the implications of evidence from imaging studies that some of these patients have been misdiagnosed.

TV: ‘Dispatches’ on the Tony Nicklinson case

17 June 2012

Monday 18 June 2012, 20.00-20.30, Channel 4, available for one month after broadcast via 4oD

From the programme’s website:

In 2005 Tony Nicklinson had a catastrophic stroke, which has left him utterly paralysed. He has what is known as ‘locked in syndrome’ and cannot move, talk, feed himself or perform even the most basic function without help. He can only communicate via a computer controlled by his eyes.

Tony Nicklinson wants to die, but he cannot kill himself without help, and anyone who helped him would be committing murder.

On the eve of a historic and controversial legal bid to demand the right to be killed, he tells his story, comes face to face with his critics, and hears from the Greek doctor who saved his life seven years earlier, who says he wouldn’t wish this condition on his worst enemy.

TV: heart transplants

10 October 2011

Exposure, ITV1, Monday, 10 October 2011, 22:35-23:35, available for 30 days after broadcast via the ITVPlayer

From the ITV Press Office: “HEART HOSPITAL, a one-hour documentary for ITV1’s new ‘Exposure’ strand, investigates the worsening crisis in the availability of donor hearts in Britain.

With intimate access to the heart transplant team at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital – one of the largest transplant centres in Europe – this revealing film follows three patients and their families as they find themselves on the long and uncertain road towards a life-saving operation, and provides a rare opportunity to witness complex heart transplant surgery.

The stories of these three men reveal the human impact of the critical shortage of donor hearts. As leading heart surgeon Professor Robert Bonser says: “Living under that shadow of uncertainty is a haunting experience”.

Professor Bonser has led the heart transplant service at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for 21 years, During his career, he’s performed more than fifteen thousand heart operations, including 250 heart transplants. He has seen the number of transplants carried out in the UK drop by two thirds to less than 100 each year.

He says in the film:“Over the years we have developed therapies that could help many more patients with advanced heart failure. The tragedy is we don’t have enough donor hearts to treat everybody and to fully utilise all these possibilities.

“We have patients in critical care who are dying in front of our eyes as we are urgently waiting for a heart.”

The problem is set to escalate. Almost a million people in the UK have heart failure and a similar number have damaged hearts but don’t yet know it. With the obesity epidemic and increased life expectancy, the number is likely to rise in coming years.

Meanwhile, more advanced emergency medicine and improved road safety mean fewer young people are dying and becoming donors. Older donor hearts are more often found to be unsuitable, and half of the hearts available to the transplant team at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital have to be rejected because they are not safe to use.

At the age of 25, Rhys Llewellyn from Aberdare is facing up to the fact that his congenital heart condition has deteriorated and a heart transplant is now his only option. His youthful optimism shines despite his worsening symptoms, but as a string of serious complications begin to take their toll, he admits, “It’s never easy to heart that your heart is in a mess, no matter how many times I have heard it. I kidded myself that I was feeling better and that things would improve. But it’s better to know.

“I hope I’m suitable for a transplant. if my body is not suitable there’s nothing I can do. I don’t want to think about death, but even if your head sometimes forgets, your body doesn’t.”

The film follows Rhys as he undergoes the series of vital tests to determine whether he can be put on the waiting list for a transplant.

Bill Proctor, 62 from Stoke, has suffered heart problems for 15 years, with no known cause. He is dependent on intravenous drips to induce his heart to beat. Without a transplant, he will die within weeks. During his unpredictable journey on the waiting list, he veers between hope, fear and sadness: “It’s very strange waiting for a heart. You’re thinking all the time. Waiting and wondering – who’s the poor unfortunate that’s got to pass away to make me live.”

The film follows Bill as he eventually has transplant surgery, and on the road to recovery.

Fit and healthy father of four Andy Dutson from Hereford recently suffered a massive heart attack of unknown cause. Two thirds of his heart was left scarred and his other organs began to shut down but he cannot remember his ordeal. As he slowly gets to grips with the shock of potentially needing a new heart, his wife Bev adjusts to the dramatic change to their family’s life together: “He just wasn’t anything like the person that I knew and lived with – that’s the hardest bit because you don’t know if you’re going to get him back.”

While surgical advances and more sophisticated anti-rejection drugs have expanded the incredible potential of heart transplantation, can doctors find the organs to save their patients’ lives in time?”

TV: Transplant

3 October 2011

BBC1, Tuesday 4th October 2011, 22.35-23.35, available after broadcast via the iPlayer

From the programme’s website: “For the first time on UK television, Transplant shows the extraordinary reality of multiple organ donation, following the organs from a single donor to the different recipients. The film shows the surgeries and the human stories on both sides, as both donor and recipients have agreed to waive the normal anonymity that exists between them.

Transplant follows the complex process of donation coordinated by the organ donor organisation, NHS Blood and Transplant, from the very beginning when a potential donor is declared brain dead and their organs are retrieved through to the transplant surgeries and recovery of the patients who’ve benefited from the donor’s organs.”


TV: Donor Mum – the children I’ve never met

25 August 2011

BBC 1, Tuesday 30 August 2011, 22.35-23.30, available after broadcast via the iPlayer

From the programme’s website:

In 1991, Sylvia was one of Britain’s first anonymous egg donors. After donating as a one-off at the London Fertility Centre in Harley Street, all she asked to know was whether her donation had been successful. But she soon found out more than she had bargained for.

Sylvia was struck to discover an article in the Daily Mail six weeks after she donated, telling the story of a woman called Joan who had successfully become pregnant using en egg donor. The clinic, the dates and the fact that they were twins, coincided exactly with Sylvia’s story. She felt sure that Joan was her recipient.

Joan had a tragic story – her two boys were killed in a car crash when they were on holiday in Crete, and in her mid- 40’s she desperately wanted to start another family. When she successfully used an egg donor, there were countless press reports that covered her moving story of tragedy transformed into happiness, and even a BBC documentary in 1994 that showed the twins as toddlers.

Sylvia felt tormented by seeing children who were genetically hers, but were in fact strangers who she wasn’t supposed to know. She was tempted to make contact, but terrified of upsetting a family who had already suffered so much. But once the twins turned 18 she felt it was right to take the bold step of contacting them.

Alongside Sylvia’s story is the story of her son Eliott. Sylvia wanted a child when she reached 33 but hadn’t found Mr Right, so she decided to go it alone. Eliott was conceived with the help of an anonymous sperm donor, and was born six months before Sylvia donated her eggs. Now 19, Eliott is ready to search for his sperm donor father.

For Eliott, born in 1991 when all donors were anonymous, his only hope is to search through DNA testing with the help of an organisation called UK Donorlink.

For Sylvia, contact with her recipient is at her fingertips. The film follows her turmoil as she decides how and when to make contact with Joan and the twins – and the extraordinary consequence of her decision.

Donors is a warm and moving film about a new kind of family emerging from the interventions of science. This film is also a snapshot of a future following the removal of donor anonymity in 2005, where more and more people will discover who their donors are after they turn 18.


TV: Vera Drake

17 June 2011

Monday 20 June 2011, 23.20-01.45, Film Four

Set in 1950, 17 years before the Abortion Act 1967, Mike Leigh’s film about a woman who performs illegal abortions and the response of the legal system to her actions is highly recommended.

News: assisted suicide in Switzerland on the KCLMEL blog

12 June 2011

The law and practice of assisted suicide in Switzerland will be much discussed this week following the broadcast of Terry Pratchett’s documentary. Earlier posts have discussed the Swiss government’s plans for reform of the law, and a recent court decision allowing the defence of necessity in a case of euthanasia (termination of life on request).

The DPP’s policy on prosecuting cases of assisted suicide, including cases in which the assisted suicide takes place in Switzerland, has been discussed in a series of posts, the links to the most recent of which can be found in this post on the Caractacus Downes case. Earlier posts on the interim policy and the Purdy case can be found by scrolling through the posts tagged ‘Switzerland’.

TV: surrogacy

31 May 2011

True Stories: Google Baby

More4, 31 May 2011, 10.00-11.45pm, available after broadcast on 4oD

From the programme’s website: “An Israeli entrepreneur is proposing a new service: pregnancy producing. His customers can select sperm and eggs online, with surrogacy outsourced to India. But what are the ethical and moral implications?”

From the Radio Times: “We open with the least romantic birth scene you’ll see this year. In India, a woman lies impassively as a C-section is carried out; while stitching the patient up, one of the doctors is on the phone, organising another birth. The woman is a surrogate and the room is part of a baby farm, full of women who bear children for a living. Elsewhere in this drab, disturbingly matter-of-fact film, we meet a man who conducts his international surrogacy business using Skype, a never-quiet mobile and a suitcase just big enough to hold a nitrogen flask of frozen embryos. Then there’s the American egg donor, injecting herself with potentially carcinogenic fertility drugs. The miracle of life suddenly seems very creepy.”