Who’s Life is it Anyway

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Last updated: November 22, 2019

Brian Clark uses a number of techniques to dramatise the Euthanasia Debate in his play, “Who’s Life is it Anyway”. Euthanasia is the means by which a person has the freedom of choice over whether they live or die. In the play there are two main arguments concerning this issue. One argument saying that a patient has the right to make this decision of life and death and on which disagrees and says the patient should not have this choice. Two characters in the play represent the two central arguments.

First of all there is Ken, Ken believes that he should have the right to choose to die, it is his life, he says that his whole life before his accident was sculpture, and now that he cannot sculpt because he is paralysed below his neck, he will never be able to sculpt again: ‘I’m almost completely paralysed and always will be. I shall never be discharged by the hospital. ‘ According to Ken his life is already over: ‘Of course I want to live but as far as I am concerned, I’m dead already…I cannot accept this condition constitutes life in any real sense at all.

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‘ ‘Any reasonable definition of life must include the idea of it being self-supporting. ‘ Ken only wants the dignity in death: ‘each man must make his own decision. And mine is to die quietly with as much dignity as I can muster’. Ken also argues that he is not asking his lawyer to make a choice over his life or death, just to represent his views to the hospital: ‘I’m not asking you to make any decision about my life and death, merely that you represent me and my views to the hospital.Ken argues that the real matter to be discussed is the indignity at not having a choice in the matter: ‘The cruelty doesn’t reside in saving someone or allowing them to die. It resides in the fact that the choice is removed from the man concerned. ‘ After Ken’s argument we have a doctor from the old-school of medicine, who is much more interested in saving people’s lives than listening to how they feel or the rights and choices they should or could have, they are only interested in black and white medical science, and not interested in the grey and mentally and emotionally challenging areas.Dr.

Emerson argues that Ken is a human life, and allowing that human life to die is a waste of a human life: ‘Mr Harrison is now physically stable. There is no reason why he should die. ‘ Dr. Emerson knows that if Ken is discharged as he would like to be he would definitely die: ‘he couldn’t last a week out of here. ‘ He knows however that Ken has an argument that could stand up in court and win, would have to admit Ken under the Mental Health Act if he wants this life to be, as Dr. Emerson sees it, “saved”.

Can’t you see that Mr Harrison is suffering from depression? He is incapable of making a rational decision about his life and death. ‘ The two arguments both seem to make sense by themselves and the debate is about an extremely important subject that has massive implications, whether someone lives or dies. Inevitably there will be a conflict of opinions, in this case, Ken vs. the medical establishment and more specifically Dr. Emerson. Brian Clark uses the physical space on the stage to dramatise this debate.Ken is at the centre of the debate or more accurately Ken’s life is at the centre of the debate, and the decision of whether he should have the choice over whether he lives or dies.

The different sides of the debate go on around the hospital, with Ken arguing his case to people at his bed, whilst Dr. Scott, a sympathetic doctor also tries to get Dr. Emerson to see Ken’s side of the story in other parts of the hospital. Ken and his bed are in the centre of the stage, with other rooms and places around the stage, the debate is argued in many of these rooms, Dr. Emerson tries to make his point in many of the rooms, like in his office.

Finally once Ken has made his point sufficiently, the debate enters court proceedings, but because of Ken’s condition, his room is transformed temporarily into a courtroom, where the debate is argued from the beginning so that the judge can pass a fair decision. Brian Clark uses the stage to discuss the debate of Euthanasia all around the hospital from many different points of view of the different people who become involved in Ken’s circumstance.In order to dramatise this debate, Brian Clark uses technical language in this play to represent each side of the debate. In the first half of the play medical jargon is used between the medical staff whilst discussing Ken’s condition: ‘the aminophylline or the huge stat dose of cortisone’, ‘Two milligrams T. I. D. ‘.

Otherwise we hear medical jargon from Dr. Emerson to Ken to confuse or convince Ken that these drugs or this procedure is necessary: ‘Your body received massive injuries; it takes time to come to any acceptance of the new situation.Now I shan’t be a minute..

. We see the issues being discussed and probed using events, like the one where Ken refuses to accept the Valium, something which Dr. Emerson sees as necessary and forces upon him, it is another aspect of a very complex debate. In the second act of the play we see legal jargon come into play, with the argument being re-argued on a legal platform, with human rights and cruelty debates coming into play: ‘My Lord, I am not asking anyone to kill me. I am only asking to be discharged from this hospital’, ‘The cruelty doesn’t reside in saving someone of allowing them to die.It resides in the fact that the choice is removed from the man concerned’, ‘Only my brain functions unimpaired but even that is futile because I cant act on any conclusions it comes to. This hearing proves that. Will you please listen.

‘ Dr. Emerson argues that Ken is mentally unstable, in order that he will win the argument, albeit unfair in an unfair way: ‘Can’t you understand that Mr Harrison is suffering from depression? He is incapable of making a rational decision about his life and death’, ‘I say he is unbalanced. Technical jargon is used to dramatise the Euthanasia Debate.Another technique that Brian Clark employs to dramatise this debate is a hierarchy amongst the medical staff, some staff’s opinions on euthanasia count for less and this leads to a conflict between the number one, and the rest of the staff, which we see develop. Number one in the medical hierarchy is clearly Dr. Emerson. He is respected and even feared above everyone else in the hospital, with 30 years of medical experience, he is even described by Ken as a God-like figure as Mr.

Hill returns from a meeting with Dr. Emerson, ‘Well, how was it on Olympus? ‘ Dr. Emerson’s order is final, as we see when against Dr. Scott and Ken’s wishes, he administers 5 milligrams of Valium because he is so sure his medical opinion is correct.

Next in the hierarchy is Dr. Scott, a fresh-faced relatively new doctor, who as previously mentioned is a lot more interested in the feelings of the patients and the grey areas and ethics than Dr. Emerson is. She is overruled by Dr.

Emerson in the Valium “incident” but still challenges his opinion, even though she is in no position to overrule him.Next comes Sister, who is in charge of all the nurses, she speaks of them as if they are children, because she is such a wealth of experience: ‘We’ll make a nurse of her yet. ‘ After Sister comes Nurse Sadler, who performs the menial tasks, like rubbing Ken’s heels to help keep his circulation going well. After Nurse Sadler at the bottom of the medical hierarchy comes John, who comes along to shave Ken every day, at the very bottom. It is interesting how, towards the bottom of the hierarchy the opinion swings in favour of Ken, whilst towards the top the doctors think Ken should be kept alive at all costs.To dramatise the argument each of these characters have varying opinions. Dr.

Emerson at the top thinks Ken should be kept alive at all costs, no matter what the patient is going through. Dr. Scott is less extreme in her views, thinking that Ken has a point and understands why he may not want to live, but nevertheless thinks that it would be a terrible waste of a brilliant mind and a human life. After Dr. Scott we see Sister, Sister has the mildest and least extreme opinion of all, in that she has very little opinion and doesn’t voice it.

Next is Nurse Sadler, who thinks Ken should have his own choice as long as he has a good reason for it, and she believes his debilitating state constitutes a good reason. At the very bottom is John, who thinks that nobody can decide what is right except Ken, its Ken’s life and Ken should be able to do what he wants with it, whether that means ending it or putting it to use. We see the different opinions voiced through different stages up the medical hierarchy. Next Brian Clark uses lighting to dramatise his play.He can use lighting for many different purposes, he uses lighting to light up different parts of the stage to show different scenes. Ken is the centre of the stage and the light moves around him to different scenes in order to provoke the audience: ‘(Cross fade on sluice room.

)’ The lighting also reflects the themes of life and death, for example the lighting can make Ken look very alone in the world at times, with nobody around him, just empty wards. Perhaps the most dramatic display of lighting in the entire play is at the end, when Dr. Scott leaves Ken in his ward, and then the lights, ‘snap out’.

This represents the absolute finality of Ken’s decision and brings to light the seriousness of his decision, he has decided to die. He knows how big a decision this is and once he has decided that it is what he wants he cannot change it. Once Ken has died, he is dead for good.The snapping out of the lights at the end reflect this finality. Brian Clark in a similar way to the medical hierarchy method uses different characters to represent a different view of Ken’s predicament. Dr.

Emerson as we have previously mentioned thinks Ken’s life is precious and should be kept at any cost, no matter what Ken’s wishes are. Dr. Scott also wants Ken to stay alive but values Ken’s opinion and thoughts more than Dr. Emerson, she thinks ethically.Dr. Travers represents another view on Ken’s problem, he sees it the same way as Dr.

Emerson, and thinks of it as a mental patient wanting to commit suicide, and is happy to back up Dr. Emerson in a court of law, and also sees it as doing a favour for Dr. Emerson, no matter what he finds whilst talking to Ken: ‘(grinning): There’s a chap at Ellertree… very staunch Catholic, I believe.

Would that suit you? ‘ He only cares about doing favours and the politics of the medical establishment. Dr. Barr is an independent psychiatrist against Dr. Emerson, and who wants to help Ken, he knows Ken isn’t depressed and sees that Dr. Emerson is trying to abuse the medical system by bringing in the biased Dr.

Travers. Nurse Sadler takes pity upon Ken and therefore cannot refuse him a lot, she feels that she must make allowances and in this case she gives Ken the opportunity to flirt: ‘Come on then, over here.I shan’t bite you Kay. Come and cool my fevered brow or something. ‘ Ken’s view on his own predicament is that he doesn’t understand why they can’t just let him do what he wants. All he can do is argue his case and when he isn’t doing that he uses his black sense of humour, he mentions to Dr. Scott what he will never ever be able to do again: ‘you are a woman and even though I’ve only a piece of knotted string between my legs, I still have a man’s mind.

.. I still have tremendous sexual desire.

‘ In order to dramatise the debate further Brian Clark uses a dramatic irony.The irony is that before Ken suffered his accident he was happy and wanted to go on living, but at that time people listened to him and he could have argued a point and people would have listened to it. Now that Ken finds himself in a situation where he doesn’t want to go on living, few people want to listen to him: ‘Only my brain functions unimpaired but even that is futile because I can’t act on any conclusions it comes to.

This hearing proves that. Will you please listen. ‘ The entire play is a power struggle between Ken and the medical establishment.

Ken is visited by Mrs Boyle, a social worker who tries to help Ken to move on and accept his disability and the possibility of living a life with the disability. Mrs Boyle is capable of helping some people but Ken isn’t interested, his greatest passion in life was his sculpture, and because Dr. Emerson has confirmed his worst fears – that he will never use his hands again, he can never sculpt again. Without this his life is meaningless and Ken doesn’t want Mrs Boyles help, Ken absolutely takes her to pieces, he throws everything he has at her: ‘All you people use the same technique.When I say something really awkward you pretend I haven’t said anything at all. You’re all the bloody same…

you have upset me. You and the doctors with your appalling so-called professionalism… That’s alright with me. Detach yourself. Tear yourself off the dotted line that divides woman from the social worker and post yourself off to another patient..

. Listen to yourself, woman. I say something offensive about you and you turn your professional cheek. If you were human, if you were treating me as a human, you’d tell me to bugger off…

The very exercise of your so-called professionalism makes me want to die.Mrs Boyle is left speechless by Ken’s outburst: ‘I’m… please… ‘ Clark uses a dramatic illustration to dramatise his play, Mr Hill’s relationship with Kay Sadler is evidence of the sort of relationship, which is not open to Ken, a loving and sexual relationship.

Ken was engaged before his accident but he cut all ties and relationships with friends and family so that he could avoid hurting them even further, and to avoid restricting their lives to looking after Ken, feeding him and cleaning him and other menial chores designed to keep him alive.Mr. Eden is brought in by Dr. Emerson in order to give a second opinion that agrees that the patient is mentally unstable, a requirement under law if somebody is to be held under the Mental Health Act. He backs Dr. Emerson and is described as a, ‘staunch catholic’, who would never agree to somebody terminating his or her own life. Kershaw is the opposite of Mr. Eden effectively.

Clark brings in this contrast in order to dramatise the debate, Mr. Eden is a psychiatrist but even if Ken is stable mentally, he will say otherwise because he, like Dr. Emerson does not want Ken to die, or to have a choice.Kershaw on the other hand wants to see justice served, and he may not agree with it but he wishes for Ken to be happy, albeit in death. The debate is fully explored again, at Ken’s bedside when effectively a courtroom is set up next to Ken, the judge is controlled and unbiased, whilst thoroughly exploring the issues, he is not satisfied by Ken’s initial argument and is adamant that the issues are explored thoroughly, in order that the right decision is made, as it is a huge decision to make: ‘There also has to be no brain activity at all.Yours is certainly working..

. Surely, it would be more cruel if society let people die, when it could, with some effort keep them alive… a man who is very desperately depressed is not capable of making a reasonable choice.

.. You tell me why it is a reasonable choice that you decide to die.

.. wouldn’t you agree that many people with appalling physical handicaps have overcome them and lived essentially creative, dignified lives?… I cannot accept that it is undignified for society to devote resources to keeping someone alive.Surely it enhances that society.

‘ Each character that comes and goes from Ken’s bedside serve to define and explore the issues surrounding euthanasia. The judge has outlined all of these strong points and yet finds in favour of Ken, and allows him to be discharged from the hospital. This proves that the judge is very unbiased, and has explored all of the issues surrounding the debate. Brian Clark uses this courtroom setting to dramatise it. Brian Clark uses also many more subtle smaller details which all contribute to dramatising the debate.Ken’s black humour and taste for black comedy is used to bring out Ken’s character and it outlines what he will sadly never be able to do, similar to this example very early on in the play: ‘I fooled her.

.. After her last round, a mate of mine came in and smuggled me out.

.. We went midnight skateboarding… The only problem was that I was the skateboard.

‘ Ken uses humour that only he could use in the circumstance, if anybody else were to make similar jokes then the jokes would be deemed tasteless and cruel.This black comedy makes the truth accessible to us – the audience. Without Ken’s black humour we would never be able to face all of these terrible issues which have all hit Ken at once, dramatising the debate here through Ken’s black humour allows us to explore the issues more fully. Next Brian Clark only reveals Ken’s injuries later in the play, allowing us to examine the issues once without knowing the full extent of his injuries and another time knowing just how badly this man has been hurt.

Clark has made Ken a sculptor, he has done this deliberately, Ken cannot live without his sculpting and machines cannot help to replace his former passion, he will never be able to do it again, this helps us to understand how and why Ken wants to die so much, he doesn’t want his sculpture replaced with reading or anything else, he can’t live without his sculpture. The play in the end has the characters and actors and audience emotionally involved. This serves to show us Ken’s side of the argument, without this emotional involvement, for example. if the play was shown from the perspective of Dr. Emerson it would be very easy to dismiss Ken’s argument and say that he should not be allowed to die full stop.

At the end of the play we suddenly realise what Ken has been fighting for, as the lights snap out, we realise the finality of what Ken has done. He has made a rational decision but before that final moment, we do not realise the full impact of what he has been fighting for. He will no longer be there once he has won his case. Ken will cease to exist. This helps us to understand why some people are anti-euthanasia, and what grave consequences it has and why euthanasia is an extreme solution to take.The theatre offers many possibilities of visualising and dramatising this debate, the medical and legal jargon used in the two acts of the play, the physical space of the stage and the lighting in combination, the black comedy of Ken, the exits and entrances of different characters that are used as mouthpieces of different views on the debate. Issues are raised in the play as they could not be in prose.

There is a suspension of disbelief, a contract between the playwright and the audience makes sure that the issues are well explored and continue to be in a 30 year-old debate.

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