Editing a short Documentary

The most challenging part of producing this documentary has been the editing process.

Distilling months of research, hours of audio, and such a complex story into seven minutes seemed a herculean task. To make it more manageable, I began by revisiting all my audio and saving the soundbites I felt were the most powerful or conveyed the story best.

I then edited these into a structure with a small amount of accompanying expedition from myself. However, although I’d planned for the documentary to be mainly character based, the interviews alone could not carry the weight of the story.

In trying to do so, I had also over edited everything, making the piece feel too tight and rushed. This meant that although it contained a lot of information, the emotion of the story was compromised.

Finding a balance between telling as much of the story as possible and giving the people that make up the story the space they deserve was difficult. I had to realise that it was going to be impossible to include every aspect of this huge debate in the piece and decide which facets I felt were the most important. It also meant getting comfortable with a tool I had never used in radio journalism before; silence.

By the second and final draft I had moved the piece much more towards the human interest angle, anchoring all the points made by campaigners and MPs with Jane’s story.

After more attempts than I’d care to mention, I finally learnt to slow down the speed at which I speak, so that it’s actually understandable. I hope.

Overall, the editing process has taught me that even though editing  is where the majority of decision making in regards to the story’s angle takes place, it can sometimes be best to take a step make and let the story speak for itself.

Listen to the final cut of Reasoning with Death: The assisted dying debate here.

 

 

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Jane Nicklinson’s Story

Jane Nicklinson, widow of Tony Nicklinson, leans forward in her seat, wringing her hands as she describes the stroke that left her husband with locked in syndrome.

She talks matter-of-factly and quickly as she walks through the six year court battle to allow a doctor to end Tony’s life.

“He saw the pneumonia as a way out,” she states. It’s a story Jane has told countless times to press as Tony become the face of the right to die campaign.

Tony passed away in 2011, just six days after the High Court rejected his plea. Since then, his case and by extension the campaign to change the ban on assisted dying in the UK has been taken over by Paul Lamb. Paul was left paralyzed in all limbs apart from a little movement in his right hand, after a car accident.

Although Jane is publicly supporting Paul and doing interviews about assisted dying, she says she no longer wants to have such a high profile role in the debate.

Watch Jane and Tony’s story below.
(Video contains discussion that some viewers may find upsetting)

The Main Arguements for and against Assisted Dying

Those actively involved in the debate may have very personal reasons for doing so. Of those I’ve spoken to during this process, most tended to have core, intimate connection to the issue that drives. Usually however, they also support other arguments or other people’s for being involved. As I’ve experienced via interviews and research, these are the most prominent reasons given for supporting/opposing a change to the law.

For:

  • Right to Autonomy:

This argument relies on the premise that an individual is free to do as they will with their body and their lives, leading to the logical extreme that one has the right to chose when that life should end. Supporters of this argument claim that no one can tell someone to go on living in a condition they do not consider bearable.

  • Compassion

One of the most common arguments made in support of assisted dying is that it is more compassionate to allow a person to end their life and ultimately their suffering, than to live on in pain or distress. This is arguably the core premise for those supporting the ‘right to die’ movement.

  • Safegaurding

Some assisted dying supporters say it is naive to believe that people do not taken their own life due to illness or disability or are not assisted in doing so. Therefor, some supporters claim it would be easier for the government and medical professional to safeguard these kinds of deaths if some or all forms of assisted dying were legal.

Against:

  • Vulnerable people will be pressured to end their lives

One argument put forward by those who oppose assisted dying is that once the law is changed, people whose lives may be considered to be of a ‘lesser quality’, e.g; disable or terminally ill individuals will feel pressured either by loved ones or their own sense of burden to end their lives prematurely.

  • Better palliative care would void the debate

Some opponents argue that if Britain had more comprehensive or better funded palliative (end of life) care, there would be no call assisted dying as those with terminal illness or disability would suffer less than in the current conditions.

  • Mistaken diagnosis 

Both the Marris and Falconer bill stipulated a six month safeguard, meaning only those given less than six months to live would be eligible for an assisted death. Despite this, many oppose groups argue that this would offer little protection as it is difficult for doctors to give an accurate  prediction of how long someone has to live. People could also act upon a mistaken diagnosis.

  • Religious

Those who oppose assisted dying on religious grounds believe that only God can divine when it is someone’s time to die and so ending someone’s life with drugs would be ‘playing God’.

Asking Difficult Questions in Interviews

One of the main challenges I faced during this process was how to approach difficult or potentially upsetting questions. Naturally with a topic like this, some of the most important questions that needed to be answered to provide depth and insight were very sensitive for some of the interviewees.

This concern was most prevalent with the main interviewee in the documentary, Jane Nicklinson. Jane’s husband Tony campaigned for an assisted death after suffering from a stroke in 2005, which left him unable to move or speak. In 2011, Tony passed away only a week after his case was rejected by the High Court.

As the central humanistic story in the documentary, I wanted to get into the crux of why this debate was so important. Jane’s interview provided an avenue to explore the people for whom the law isn’t a nuanced abstract but a daily barrier, or safeguard.

However this meant asking questions which may bring up unpleasant memories for some interviewees. I found myself nervous before many of the interviews conducted for this documentary, worrying that I would upset the interviewee or that they would refuse to continue our conversation after I had asked certain questions.

What I found surprised me a little. After working through the more technical issues during the interview, all my interviewees seemed relaxed and even eager to discuss their personal reasons for being involved in the debate, no matter how distressing.

I learned that it was best to discuss the legal or medical side of the debate to build up a rapport, before moving into the interviewee’s personal reasons for being involved with the debate. I also found it was useful to make it clear that the interviewee did not have to answer questions that they deemed too distressing. However, no interviewees felt the need to do this as most seemed pleased to have the opportunity to share their story.

If I were to conduct more interviews for this documentary, I would try to ask a few more questions that I had been hesitant og asking. But I would still remain cautious not to intrude in to the interviewee’s grief or traumatic experiences.

Falconer or Marris bill: How to tell the difference

One of the things it took me a while to get to grips with in this complex and naucienced debate was the difference between the Falconer and Marris bill.

To begin with, I was unsure that these were to separate bills. I thought the Falconer bill had been renamed after it passed through the House of Lords and became the Marris bill in the House of Commons.

This is only a partial misconception. The Falconer and Marris bill had the same objective at there core; changing the law to allow assisted dying for certain people. However, Marris’ private members bill focused on assisted dying where as the Falconer bill (which came before) used the term assisted suicide.

Clarifying the difference between these two bills and the importance of them came as a matter of course of investigating this topic.

On more than one occasion I asked an interviewee a question about the Marris bill when the issue in fact referred to Falconer and visa versa. The replies I received from my somewhat confused interviewees helped me understand that these two bills would have affected the law in tangibly different ways, no matter how subtle to those outside the debate.

To cement this knowledge I did research and read around the process of how a bill moves through parliament. Although I still do not fully understand the process or all the differences, I now have a far more practical knowledge of the issue.

If you’d like to find out more about the difference between the bills, read below:

Phil Cheatle’s Story

Associate Co-coordinator of the Society for Old Age Rational (SOARS) Phil Cheatle blinks heavily several times and looks away from the camera.

“It’s not that I wasn’t compassionate, I was very compassionate but I didn’t think it was right to condone murder.”

A few years ago, before her decline into severe dementia Phil’s mother begged him to help her die.

She had been suffering form cancer and endured several agonising procedures. Despite her wishes to be given pain killers even if it shortened her life, Phil was horrified to find much of her painful treatment was being carried out without them.

Unable to help her end her suffering, Phil became increasingly involved with SOARS. Eventually he took over from Michael Irwin as co-coordinator.

“I decided to do what I could to help people in my mother’s situation and maybe one day it would help me,”

Phil set up a support group for Dignity in Dying in his home town of Bristol. After looking into their aims more thoroughly, he decided that the group’s objective was too limiting and would have been unable to help people in his like mother.

Despite being a much smaller group, Phil found SOARS much more closely aligned with his own views.

Now, he and his organisation offer lectures, and campaign for the debate and laws around assisted dying to go further than the terminally ill.

“I’m very keen to find something that is safe and workable.”

 

 

MP Conor Burns’ Story

Bournemouth West MP Conor Burns leans forward on the sofa opposite as he explains some of the previous conscious issues he has faced during his time in the House of Commons.

“They’re outside the reach of whips and rightly so,” he says, mentioning again how he voted yes on the marriage equality bill in a slightly hushed voice.

Even so, Conservative MPs (of which Burns’ is a member) voted overwhelmingly against the bill. The bill was opposed by 210 Conservative MPs while only 27 supported the proposal.

“I don’t think there are any words we could have come up with that would have reassured our fundamental concerns,” says Burns in regards to why the bill was rejected.

Marris’ bill already contained amended wording and terminology from the Falconer bill, which was first read in the House of Lords in June 2014.

“We wanted to show that it was the will of the House of Commons that this was not something we wanted to progress with,” which Burns says is why MPs fought to change the wording, to make it more difficult for the Falconer bill to pass.

The might of the House of Commons was certainly behind the vote. Nearly two thirds of the house participated in the private members vote on Marris’ bill. Such a turn out is ‘rare’, says Burns.

For himself, it was fear of ‘mission creep’ that kept him from supporting, as well as his public support of ‘life’. He feels that despite all the assurance, vulnerable people would eventually feel pressured to end their lives in fear of being a burden.

“How often have you heard old people say ‘well I’m just a burden’, when actually they have so much left to give.”

However, Burns does not support the artificial prolonging of a life ‘that would otherwise end’.

This was the case with his own Grandmother, whose pneumonia his family decided not to treat as she would have been stripped of her independence. Listen to the full story below.