27 August 1999 | Chris_Docker
Responsible and entertaining TV hospital ethics drama
Coming at a time when less responsible hospital dramas are becoming increasingly popular, this is the first time I have seen the ethical issues raised in a way that gives them some meaning to the ordinary viewer and potential patient.
Such a groundbreaking programme will no doubt attract criticism from all sides just as the central character, Dr Doune, is put at the centre of every controversy. Yet it is this very process, coupled with the educated awareness which the character brings to the dilemmas she confronts, that raises our perspective of the issues in an informed and constructive manner.
Too often, dramas dealing with life and death issues that elicit strong emotions will only serve to open wounds. The viewer becomes a voyeur, indulging in an emotional response without any idea of how to think about the problems constructively (or react to them constructively if similar situations arise in their own lives). Sometimes the viewer will already have been through such a traumatic incident and labouring the point brings no benefit except to re-visit the pain. Life Support is very different it uses the medium of drama to educate and raise our understanding of the facts pertinent to some of life's tragedies and arms us with knowledge that helps us get a handle on the problems.
Episode Five was a typical case in point. Useful information about living wills was conveyed in a realistic manner, with proper respect to the pressures of day-to-day NHS care. The characters themselves are full-bloodied archetypes that the viewer can identify with not academic or theoretical cardboard cut-outs.
The whole ethos of Life Support fits very well with some precepts I remember from the man who was my tutor in medical ethics, Professor Robin Downie he would say that ethics cannot be taught, only learnt. The use of drama is increasingly being recognised as a leading and powerful tool that allows each and every one of us to say `how would I react in that situation?' The major contribution of Life Support is that the series' producers have gone to great pains to achieve a realistic representation of the scenarios in question and have evidently sought and listened to expert advice on how such scenarios can develop in an ethically responsible (and legally accurate) manner.
This is television drama at its best. Hats off to BBC Scotland!