British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Harsh Realities

Medicine is not an exact science. Every day healthcare professionals are expected to make life and death decisions with only their expertise and experience to guide them. There is no comprehensive rule book to tell them how to act. This programme looks at how doctors, nurses, social services, and advisers take vital decisions about patients’ lives. Niall Dickson, the BBC’s social affairs editor, chairs three discussions that attempt to get to the heart of these issues. In each programme Niall is joined by professionals who have direct experience of the subject under discussion.

The first programme in the series tackles child abuse. When a medical professional suspects that a child has been assaulted, what course of action should they take? Protection of the child is vital of course, but the notorious over zealousness of practitioners on Orkney and Teesside have made many doctors hesitant. Removing a child from his or her home is a dramatic step. If there is even a hint of doubt about the case, should the professionals act - or play it safe?

The second programme looks at the stark choices facing parents and professionals when a baby is born severely disabled. The third programme discusses the legal minefield of assisted suicide and asks whether it is ever morally acceptable for a doctor to help kill a patient.
Great Britain
Year of release
Year of production
Broadcast weekly on Radio 4 from 14/4/2003
Social Studies; Medical sciences; Philosophy
child abuse; decision-making; disabled children; medical ethics; suicide; assisted suicide

Online availability


Production Company


BBC Radio 4

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