“Whose life is anyway? ” is a play written by Brian Clark is about Ken Harrison who after a road accident is paralyzed from the neck down. After six months his condition is more stable but he feels he isn’t treated properly by the staff at the hospital. As the doctors battle to save him, he battles to die. Euthanasia is the deliberate killing of a person for the benefit of that person. It is legal in countries like Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Switzerland, the U. S. states of Oregon and Washington.
It is illegal in Britain because it is the same as committing and it is also classed as a criminal act. This is the theme of the play. Diane Pretty was a mother who was terminally ill with motor neuron and was expected to die soon. She wanted her husband to ‘help her die’. She wrote to the director of Public Prosecution so that her husband wouldn’t be prosecuted also she wrote to Tony Blair the P. M at the time, these were rejected. She took her case to the European Court of Human Rights, House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights.
This attracted huge media attention because euthanasia is such a controversial issue (just like the play)as the government are stopping people from making their own decision whether they want to live or die, this led to huge support for Diane Pretty. She wanted her appeal approved because she wanted to die with ‘dignity’ just like Ken in the play. All of her cases were rejected because the courts said “Mrs. Pretty’s argument was both informed and dangerous, she died aged 43 on May 11, 2002. “Whose life is it anyway? ” was first played at the Mermaid Theatre with Tom Conti as Ken Harrison in 1978.
There is a huge difference between the audience of 1978 to the audience of 2008. They treated figures of authority with great respect and they took their decision as the final decision. The sexual banter between Ken and the nurses would have come as a shock to the audience of the 70’s because in sex was considered a personal matter and they would have talked to a figure of authority with great respect. Also we are much more aware of our rights. For example the Patients Charter, which was a set of laws aimed to give more control to the patient’s over their treatment.
It was abolished in 2000 but some aspects still remain to help protect the rights of patients. Ken’s experience would be very different if the play had been set in 2008. The first thing he would have been asked was how he would like to have been called and everybody will call him in that manner. Also he would be given information about his treatment and the right to refuse certain treatments if he wished. The audiences of today are almost desensitized to Ken’s language/behavior towards the medical staff because we are more used to sexual banter and swearing in our daily life.
Ken has sexual banters with the nurses especially Nurse Sadler to whom he is friendlier with and he calls her by first name “I should call you Kay in private… “. To Dr. Scott he said “… you have lovely breasts” to this she replies “What an odd thing to say”. The effect that this has is that it shows the length that Ken has to go to get a reaction to Dr. Scott. This would give the audience of today a shock as even with today’s talk we don’t talk like that to Doctors. This shows that their relationship is not an average patient-doctor relationship.
We learn about the opinions of the characters in the play regarding Ken’s wish throughout the play. Those who agree with Ken’s decision include Dr. Scott, she defends Ken after Dr. Emerson injects valium saying to Dr. Emerson “You are behaving as a judge” also when asked by Mr. Hill, Ken’s Solicitor, if he took a bottle of sleeping pills how she would react she says “.. I’d be very relieved. Another is Mr. Hill who after meeting Dr. Emerson agrees seeing how “… Mr. Harrison needs a solicitor” helps Ken. Nurse Sadler, who represents a more informal personal aspect of the hospital.
Dr. Emerson is against Ken’s wish to die “It is my duty as a Doctor to preserve life” he believes against euthanasia so strongly that he uses the Mental Health act. Sister Anderson who being old school doesn’t agree with Ken “I won’t wish you good luck”. Dr Travers, the doctor who signs for the mental health act also agrees with Dr. Emerson. The characters are used to give both sides of the argument. I think the argument is imbalanced as Ken has many permanent supporters unlike Dr. Emerson who only has Dr. Travers. Brian Clark shows the two sides of Euthanasia through arguments for example: when Dr. Scott talks to Dr. Emerson she says its “… is life” and Dr. Emerson responds by saying that “it is my duty as a doctor to preserve life”.
Dr. Travers conversation with Ken and also the hearing at the end. The main point of Brian Clark’s argument is that patients should be given more control to what happens to them when they are in hospital. Brian Clark articulates this to the staff through Ken’s comments to the hospital staff. Right at the beginning of the play when John is shaving Ken , Sister Anderson says there is a consultants round this morning Ken replies “The gods are walking on Earth again” this indicates that the consultants are powerful, what they says goes in the hospital.
They can be both very brutal and sometimes very sympathetic because consultants like the one that Ken’s lawyer Mr. Hill brings in for the hearing sympathizes with Ken but Dr. Emerson doesn’t being brutal and injecting valium disregarding Ken’s decision. Dr. Scott changes during the play. At the start she is just like Dr. Emerson, she calls him “Mr. Harrison” also she prescribes the valium and doesn’t ask any personal question but she changes when Dr. Emerson injects the valium as she believes he should have regarded Ken’s decision.
Near the end of the she calls him by his first name and even goes to kiss him which he rejects this shows that Dr. Scott changed from a professional doctor into a doctor that respects the patients decision. Characters are used as dramatic devices to highlight different views in the argument. They affect the audience by changing their opinion of the argument. Stage direction reveals small information about the characters such as when Dr. Travers moves the stool Ken says “That’s a disturbing tidiness compulsion” this tells us that Dr. Travers is a very tidy man and doesn’t like a mess.
In the injection scene where Dr. Emerson injects valium into Ken, he refuses but Dr. Emerson just injects him anyway. The effect that this had on the audience is that it shows how helpless Ken is that he can’t stop people from injecting him with whatever they want. This is done to reveal Ken’s situation to the audience and give them a taste of how Ken must be feeling at that moment. Also the conversation with Mrs. Boyle is important because it shows us the professionalism of the hospital and why Ken wants to die. The picture of Ken we get through the play is that he is a very intelligent man we see this throughout the conversations in the play.
When Dr. Scott comes to inject the valium he correctly guesses that it is a seductive and also Dr. Travers remarks that “… your anatomy is excellent. ” The conversation with Mr. Hill his solicitor he reveals that they can appeal for habeas corpus which is a legal action, or writ, through which a person can seek relief from the unlawful detention of him/herself or another person. Ken knows that it is linked to criminals mainly which most don’t know. Also he is in control of his emotion when he tells how easy it was for him to let go and it “was balls that did it”.
We learn that he was sculptor at an art school. This is would make the audience more sympathetic because an artist greatest tools are his imagination and his hands and now the only thing that he can use is his brain and they are trying to take that away as well. Brian Clark wanted to get the audience to think of them as two rivals equally matched. Ken being the underdog comes to claim victory in the end of the play. The hospitals of the 1970’s were very professional as they didn’t get very personal with patients. Also they didn’t take the patients decision as they considered themselves right.
The audience will be thinking about what would they have done if they were in Ken’s situation and whether euthanasia should be legal or not. The audience would sympathize with Ken because he is the one that is not going to be able to use his body for the rest of his life and stay in a hospital. They might also sympathize a little for Dr. Emerson who worked hard to save Ken’s life and in the end it was all for nothing. To conclude the argument of both sides was whether to let Ken die or not. The view we get of the medical profession is that sometimes they are sympathetic and sometimes they are brutal.