Alzheimer's film 'powerful and poignant' says expert
10 August 2007
A review of the BBC documentary Malcolm and Barbara: Love’s Farewell by Dr Richard Huxtable, Deputy Director of Bristol University’s Centre for Ethics in Medicine, is published in the BMJ today.
The film by Paul Watson, a sequel to his 1999 documentary Malcolm and Barbara: A Love Story, aroused controversy prior to broadcast when doubts were raised about its supposed ‘death scene’, which purportedly shows the dying moments of Malcolm Pointon, a 66-year-old Alzheimer's patient.
However, in his four star review, Dr Huxtable argues that the controversy should not be allowed to detract from the powerful messages the film conveys about living with Alzheimer's.
“Save for respite care – which is neither as frequent nor as capably provided as she would wish – Malcolm’s wife Barbara remains his main carer throughout his illness,” Dr Huxtable writes.
“In the closing quarter of the film, she intimates why a documentary like this is so important; it seems, to her, that it should help raise awareness of the difficulties faced by patients with dementia, a condition she dubs ‘the scourge of the century’, and their carers.”
And Dr Huxtable considers there is nothing voyeuristic in the film’s closing scenes: “Whether the broadcasting media ought to be entitled to show a person’s demise is an ethical debate for elsewhere – the real story that this documentary tells concerns not simply the final failings of Malcolm’s body but also what Barbara refers to as the ‘little bit of Malcolm [that] has been dying for the last 15 years’.
“The questions raised about the care provided both to those with dementia and, in turn, to their carers should remain the primary focus, long after the credits have rolled.”
Dr Huxtable is an expert in the legal aspects of health care, primarily researching end of life care and the treatment of children. His PhD, awarded in 2002, analysed the rationality of the law’s diverse – and frequently contradictory – approaches to ‘assisted death’. He has published in legal, ethical and scientific journals, has made various contributions to local, national and international media, and has delivered papers at a number of academic fora.