Skip to main content

Coma Songs

10 October 2014

Academic research into the experiences of families of patients with severe brain injuries has been translated into a radio programme, providing insight into the heart-breaking dilemmas they face.

Commissioned by BBC Radio 3 for their innovative 'Between the Ears' series, 'Coma Songs' uses words, sounds, music and poetry to explore modern medicine's specific ability to save the body but not to restore the brain.

Using interviews carried out by Professor Jenny Kitzinger from Cardiff University and Professor Celia Kitzinger from the University of York, co-directors of the York-Cardiff Chronic Disorders of Consciousness Research Centre, the programme draws on hours of recorded conversation with families. Talking with stark honesty about what it is like to have a relative in a long term 'coma' or vegetative state, 'Coma Songs' raises questions about the profound emotional and ethical dilemmas they face.

Co-produced by Professor Jenny Kitzinger, working alongside radio producer Llinos Jones from Terrier Productions, the programme features poetry written and read by James Nash and metal music composed and played by Eliza Gregory - two artists who were given full access to interview transcripts to inform their creative interpretation of family experiences.

Interviews featured in the programme were originally used in online resource launched last month to provide family support and training for practitioners involved in the care of people with severe forms of brain injury. However, research suggested that there was a need for wider social engagement with the issues raised, encouraging the academics to take their work further.

Jenny Kitzinger, Professor at Cardiff University's School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, said: "Media representations of coma and the vegetative state often caricature what it means to be 'in a coma' and over-simplify the issues involved. Through this programme we have been able to give listeners insight into the journey families go through after catastrophic brain injuries and what it means to have a loved-one sustained in a prolonged vegetative or minimally conscious state.

"The programme invites listeners to confront some of the key questions and dilemmas highlighted by our research. It explores difficulties interpreting consciousness and being at the bedside, such as what it might mean when a patient opens their eyes, and troubling questions about end-of-life decision making."

Professor Celia Kitzinger, Department of Sociology at the University of York, said: "This creative radio programme captures aspects of the research findings that are hard to convey in a learned journal - the traditional outlet for academic findings. The issues raised need to be informed by, but go beyond, academic debate – the challenges raised by twenty first century medicine affect us all. This radio programme is a contribution to that wider public debate."

'Coma Songs' will air on Saturday 11 October at 10pm on BBC Radio 3. For more information, visit

Share this story