Saturday, 23 October 2021

Any Questions?... Any Answers?....22nd/23rd October 2021

Zero made the suggestion just over a week ago that we might go along to a broadcast of BBC Radio 4's Any Questions? The broadcast on 22nd October was coming from Sydney Russell School, very near to us. 

The students who helped to host the event and were the main source of the questions asked during the programme were excellent. I suspect they had a very exciting experience - they were certainly very keen to meet the Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, at the end of the broadcast (I think this encounter had been pre-arranged).

The full broadcast can be heard at BBC Sounds for at least the next 12 months from the date of this post. If you listen from 32:40 onwards you will hear the answers given by the panel to a question about assisted dying, which had been the subject of a debate in the House of Lords that same day.

I reacted with considerable sadness when Nadhim Zahawi and Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, unsure of exactly what they felt about the legalisation of assisted dying, both included in their remarks an expression of concern as to how they would feel if they were to become a burden to their loved ones. I found it sad that two very capable individuals, in good health and contributing significantly to public life, should have this sense that, at some point in the future, they might feel that they were a burden to others.

I was able at the end of the broadcast to catch a brief word with Nadhim Zahawi, to say to him how sad I found it that he felt the way he did. I shared with him that I have been able to see some quite special moments as a volunteer visiting with patients in my local hospital trust who are nearing the end of their lives. I ended by expressing my hope that, as he nears that point, he might not feel as he does now.  Unfortunately, I was unable to catch Dr Allin-Khan to share the same thoughts.

Though the discussion of assisted dying in Any Questions? was only a short part of the programme as a whole, the topic was the only topic in the corresponding Any Answers? broadcast on 23rd October. That programme can also be found on BBC Sounds here, though it only appears to be available for the next 29 days from the date of this post.

I made two mistakes in my attempt to contribute to Any Answers? (I wasn't able to phone in at the time of the programme as I was involved in an all day Teams meeting at the time). I sent in an email, when I should have sent in a text or tweet at the time of the programme itself; and I also tried to respond to things said during the Any Questions? programme. If you listen to the Any Answers? programme you will very readily recognise my tactical errors.

The text of my emailed comment is below:

After attending Any Questions this evening at Sydney Russell School in Dagenham, I would like to submit the following comment to Any Answers:
SUBJECT:  assisted dying

In their remarks about assisted dying, both Nadhim Zahawi and Dr Rosena Allin-Khan were torn as to whether or not they supported proposals to legalise assisted dying.

What saddened me greatly, however, was that both of them expressed a real concern that they might, at the end of their lives, feel that they had become a burden to their family and friends.

In a volunteer role at my local NHS hospital trust I am able to visit with patients and their loved ones as a patient approaches the end of their life; and I see some lovely moments that friends and family are able to spend with a patient at this time in their lives.

Perhaps as a society we need to re-frame the conversation so that it is one about how we love and care for those who are seriously ill; and how we recognise what they in turn have to offer to those who love them and care for them. We need to abolish the language of burden from our discourse.

I hope, at a personal level, that both Mr Zahawi and Dr Allin-Khan will be able, as they grow older, to feel that the experience of illness is not one of being a burden to others but instead an experience of a shared love and care between them and their loved ones.

There was one suggestion made in the Any Answers? programme that, on a considered reflection, has a more unfortunate implication than, clearly, was intended by the contributor making the suggestion, and it passed without challenge in the programme. The comparison was made between how we allow that animals suffering can be put down but we insist on humans in similar conditions having to continue in their suffering. The suggestion that our treatment of animals can provide a model for how we treat human persons has a chilling implication for how we actually understand the dignity of human persons, an implication that is in need of challenge.

Apart from all this, it really is a quite fascinating experience to go along to a programme like Any Questions? in order to see how the programme works and to watch how its presenters and producers go about their jobs - and how other attendees conduct themselves! Even if you just sit and watch what is going on around you, there is a valuable experience to be had. It is also possible to get a more personal feel for political figures who, when interviewed on radio or television, can appear distant and remote.

Zero had done her homework before we went along .... so she was the only person in the room who, during the warm up discussion before the broadcast itself, was able to correctly answer the question about when Any Questions? had first been broadcast .... in 1948.

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