Magazine article The Spectator

Impossible Questions

Magazine article The Spectator

Impossible Questions

Article excerpt

'I wish I knew, ' said the doctor in a rare moment of candour when asked, 'What do you do with children who don't want to take the tablets?'

He was talking about Tanya, an HIVpositive teenager who was refusing to take the life-giving anti-viral drugs he had recommended. She'd been born with HIV, her mother had died of Aids when she was still a baby, and she'd been raised by an aunt in ignorance of why she was always falling ill with chest infections. No one in the family wanted her to know.

Can Tanya be treated against her family's wishes? Should she be told against their wishes? When does a seriously ill child have a say in their care plan? These were the decisions faced by the team of medical and legal experts on Inside the Ethics Committee , Joan Bakewell's thought-provoking discussion programme which has returned for a short summer run on Tuesday mornings (produced by Beth Eastwood). It's a classic Radio 4 format - pure talk on a precise topic directed by a highly experienced presenter - although not always accomplished with such perceptivity. Not a slack word, careless expression or idle comment could be detected in 45 minutes of challenging conversation that confronted the difficult ethical realities at the heart of Tanya's story, the kind of distressing situation that might well be presented to an actual clinical ethics committee on which Bakewell's programme is modelled.

Bakewell did not just chair the discussion she also guided us gently through the various stages of Tanya's short life, giving the conversation a narrative arc and turning what could have been a dry and dusty debate into a programme with emotional depth as well as intellectual rigour. Tanya's health deteriorated, at one time inflicting on her terrifying nose bleeds during which she bled out two-thirds of her blood volume.

Still she would not take the drugs that could help her. …

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