Ethical issues in Dementia

March 18, 2011

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics produces authoritative reports on issues of ethical importance. Reaching Out to Young People committee (of which I am a member) aims to produce teaching resources to accompany the production of some of these reports. Most recently, we have released some materials to help students (particularly A level students) to explore Ethical Issues associated with Dementia. These resources are available via the Nuffield website.

A Short Stay in Switzerland

January 28, 2009

A Short Stay in Switzerland is a BBC dramatisation telling the true story of Dr Anne Turner. Diagnosed with the degenerative neurological condition Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) and facing progressive deterioration in her condition, Dr Turner decided that she would end her own life by travelling to the Swiss clinic ‘Dignitas’. Unlike the UK, assisted euthanasia is legal in Switzerland. A Short Stay in Switzerland tells a highly emotive account of a woman who wishes to “die with dignity”, a decision eventually supported by her children.

00. The moment Dr Anne Turner tells her children that she has PSP.

A Short Stay In Switzerland - BBC 1 Sunday 25th January 2009, 21:00. The moment Dr Anne Turner tells her children that she has PSP.

The programme follows the events during the final stages of Anne Turner’s life. Although the dramatisation attempts to illustrate events as accurately as possible, it does so with a clear agenda in favour of her autonomous decision and it does not discuss the other possible alternatives when faced with such a situation in any detail.

There is, however, a section of the programme which shows Dr Turner’s children attempting to convince her that her life is worth living and that they can provide palliative care for her (00:25 :10 – 00:33:33). In this specific case, Dr Turner succeeds in her wish after an unsuccessful suicide attempt in her home persuades her children how determined she is. (Warning:  if using the section indicated by the timings above, please be aware that the scenes that follow, graphically depict Turner’s earlier suicide attempt and therefore may not be suitable for all audiences).

There is also a BBC news article about the programme and you may be interested in this post on Panorama – I’ll die when I choose.

BBC News article 22nd January 2009. 'A Short Stay in Switzerland'.

BBC News article 22nd January 2009. 'A Short Stay in Switzerland'.

 A Short Stay in Switzerland was first broadcast on BBC 1 21:00 – 22:30  (90 minutes) Sunday 25th January 2009, and is available on BBC iPlayer until 10:29pm Sunday 1st February 2009.


My Life On A Post-it Note

August 8, 2008
BBC News article

BBC News article

Christine was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The BBC documentary series One Life gave a personal insight into the effect of the disease on both the sufferer and the family around them, as they endeavour to cope with this deliberating illness. Christine (mostly referred to as Chris in the documentary) is resolute in her determination to remain independent. This, however, becomes increasingly difficult as the disease becomes progressively worse.

Read the rest of this entry »

Exploiting Genetic Knowledge – Visions of the Future (2)

January 11, 2008

The Biotech Revolution, the second episode of the BBC4 Visions of the Future series, continues to describe ways in which humanity is making a “historic transition from the age of scientific discovery to the age of scientific mastery”. Presenter Michio Kaku suggests that unlocking the basic code of life will allow us to “predetermine the destiny of life itself” and to manipulate it at the most fundamental level (Start-00:02:00).

The programme begins with Kaku having his “medical future rather than history” diagnosed via a series of genetic tests for complex diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. He describes this as an “owner’s manual” which will enable him to have greater control of his health, and to allow others to perhaps prolong their life by decades (00:02:20-00:06:20 and 00:20:05-00:23: 20). As a scientist, he is eager to discover what secrets his genome may contain however, as a person, he says “wait a minute, this could be a Pandora’s Box… I’m looking at a side of me I have never seen before, a side that has potential medical problems lurking there”.

Some of the issues raised here mirror those found in the ITV1 broadcast The Killer in Me, which illustrated particularly well the anguish associated with having such tests and the way actions could be taken in light of the results. In this programme, in contrast, there is greater emphasis placed on the potential impact on relatives and wider society that may result from taking the tests. “We really want to respect your privacy and the privacy of your relatives” the physician emphasises to Kaku.  Much of the future of this testing, if not the present, relies upon “the last great discovery of the 21st century, the Human Genome Project”.  Kaku believes that this event holds such significance that we will look at the history of medicine in two eras, “before genome and after genome”. “Having unravelled the fundamental code of our biology the stage is set for us to manipulate it” he adds (00:06:25-00:09:20). Read the rest of this entry »