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Coma Songs: York and Cardiff academics co-produce BBC Radio 3 programme

Posted on 9 October 2014

Academic research into the experiences of families of patients with severe brain injuries has been translated into a radio programme, providing insight into the heart-breaking dilemmas they face.

Commissioned by BBC Radio 3 for their innovative ‘Between the Ears’ series, Coma Songs is the result of collaboration between families with experience of catastrophic brain injuries, academic researchers at York and Cardiff universities, artists and media producers.

Using interviews carried out by Professor Celia Kitzinger from the University of York and Professor Jenny Kitzinger from Cardiff University, co-directors of the York-Cardiff Chronic Disorders of Consciousness Research Centre, the programme draws on hours of recorded conversation with families. Talking with stark honesty about what it is like to have a relative in a long term ‘coma’ or vegetative state, Coma Songs raises questions about the profound emotional and ethical dilemmas they face.

Co-produced by Professor Jenny Kitzinger, working alongside radio producer Llinos Jones from Terrier Productions, the programme uses words, sounds, music and poetry to explore modern medicine's specific ability to save the body but not to restore the brain.

The programme also features poetry written and read by James Nash and metal music composed and played by Eliza Gregory - two artists who were given full access to interview transcripts to inform their creative interpretation of family experiences.

Interviews featured in the programme were originally used in a healthtalk.org web resource, launched last month to provide family support and training for practitioners involved in the care of people with severe forms of brain injury. However, research suggested that there was a need for wider social engagement with issues raised, encouraging the academics to take their work further.

Jenny Kitzinger, Professor at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies,   said: “Media representations of coma and the vegetative state often caricature what it means to be ‘in a coma’ and over-simplify the issues involved. Through this programme we have been able to give listeners insight into the journey families go through after catastrophic brain injuries and what it means to have a loved-one sustained in a prolonged vegetative or minimally conscious state.

“The programme invites listeners to confront some of the key questions and dilemmas highlighted by our research. It explores difficulties interpreting consciousness and being at the bedside, such as what it might mean when a patient opens their eyes, and troubling questions about end-of-life decision making.”

Professor Celia Kitzinger, of the Department of Sociology at York, said: “This creative radio programme captures aspects of the research findings that are hard to convey in a learned journal - the traditional outlet for academic findings. The issues raised need to be informed by, but go beyond, academic debate – the challenges raised by 21st Century medicine affect us all. This radio programme is a contribution to that wider public debate.”

Coma Songs will air on Saturday 11 October at 10pm on BBC Radio 3.

Further information:

  • For further information about Coma Songs, visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04l30wr
  • The York-Cardiff Chronic Disorders of Consciousness Research Centre is a multi-disciplinary group of researchers based at the University of York and Cardiff University. The Centre is dedicated to exploring the cultural, ethical, legal, social and historical dimensions of Chronic Disorders of Consciousness: coma, the vegetative and the minimally conscious state. The vegetative state is when a patient has no awareness of themselves or their environment. The ‘minimally conscious state’ is when the patient has some minimal and inconsistent awareness. For further information, visit: http://cdoc.org.uk/
  • The collaborations with artists were supported by Research Priming Funds provided by the Wellcome Trust [ref: 097829/Z/11/A] through the Centre for Chronic Diseases and Disorders (C2D2) at the University of York.
  • The research with family members used in the programme was supported by a Knowledge Exchange grant from the Economic and Social Research Council [ES/K00560X/1‚Äč]
  • To view the online healthtalk.org module entitled ‘family experiences of vegetative and minimally conscious states’, visit http://www.healthtalk.org/peoples-experiences/nerves-brain/family-experiences-vegetative-and-minimally-conscious-states/topics

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