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Innocents
updated 7.24.2002

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
An outstanding show, most dramatic and chilling. Your very best on Masterpiece Theatre. It is true and happens more often than not, on this side of the ditch also.

Bernard Sivak, M.D.
Ann Arbor, MI




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I was unable to read any of the text at the beginning and end of the documentary. Is this available online somewhere? Thanks.

Trudy McDaniel
Lynchburg, VA



Opening text:
On 18th June 1998 the General Medical Council found three doctors guilty of serious professional misconduct at Bristol Royal Infirmary.

The film which follows tells some of the stories which led to that judgement.

For the purposes of dramatisation, some incidents have been simplified and dialogue created in line with documented fact.

The Producers would like to thank the families of children operated on in Bristol, with whose support and assistance this film could not have been made.

Concluding text:
After a long campaign parents in the Bristol Heart Children Action Group attained their aim of a public inquiry.

It is expected to produce its report by the end of the year.

The Bristol Healthcare Trust has now confirmed that it retained some 300 children's hearts.

Following the events depicted in this film, Joshua Loveday's father, Robert, took his own life.

Three other parents are also known to have taken their own lives after the loss of their children.

Brad Manfield died while this film was being made -- 5 years after his operation.

The film is dedicated to the memory of children who died or suffered brain damage following surgery at Bristol.

[The names and ages of the children lost then follow.]




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
My son almost underwent an arterial switch operation in the early 1980s in England. This was an innovative approach to address the congenital defect of transposition of the arteries at the time, and was not yet implemented at our University Hospital in Portland, Oregon.

We were therefore eager to contact the English surgeon and had asked our son's cardiologist to forward his medical chart for review -- and, we hoped, a response. Unfortunately, we never received any feedback after several months' waiting and proceeded to make preparations for surgery here in Portland. We, too, had been told that the "switch" carried a mortality rate of about 20%; the more proven but less ideal "mustard procedure" about 10%.

It was immediately evident through your telling of this devastating account of the loss of so many beautiful lives (child and adult) that we were incredibly fortunate to have stayed and received the excellent care provided here. What seemed at the time a disappointment over perhaps a missed opportunity for a more "perfect outcome" for our son, proved to be the impetus for placing our trust in the skilled and caring surgeons here.

Our son thrived beautifully thereafter and though we may have pushed aside the anguish of those early months and years, we have not forgotten the skill, courage, and dedication to excellence of our doctors and healthcare professionals. We are deeply grateful!

Thank you for reminding me on this Mother's Day that this intelligent, handsome, stubborn, 6'3" tall young man is a living miracle!

Susanne Carlberg
Oregon City, OR




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I was moved to tears after seeing the film Innocents, and it made me want to ask about doctors and the ethics of their playing the role of "God." Doctors are healers, and we trust our lives -- as well as the lives of our loved ones and friends, alike -- to the hands of these doctors that heal. Doctors, for some reason, are removed from responsibility when a death occurs. The film brought to mind the plight of these poor parents who entrusted their children to these healers who in turn betrayed them all. My heart goes out to all parents who have a child who has a serious illness and I pray for the soul of each child that has lost its life at the hands of doctors who show no remorse.

Margaret Deming
Brooklyn, NY




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I'm a 20-year-old college student. You would never think that I am a fan of this show, and I wasn't until Innocents came on. I absolutely loved this, and can't wait until the video comes out for purchase. When I can't sleep, I stay up and watch random shows, and that's how I came across it. Well-done acting and portraying of this tragic story. It hit me in the heart, and left me feeling the parents' pain. I look forward to more, and will now keep up with the lawsuits that ensued over this tragic act of the medical profession. Well done!

Rebecca McClaskey
Bryan, TX




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
After watching Innocents last night, I have even more love for my 5-year-old son. I was absolutely spellbound by the show and my heart goes out to the parents who needlessly lost their children.

Earl McKnight
Baltimore, MD




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Just finished watching Innocents. It was so well done; I was spellbound. It's hard to believe that such a tragedy could occur in the 1990s! It has certainly sparked my interest in this case, and I have been on the Internet much today reading the chronology and further details of the case. I've been watching Masterpiece Theatre for many years; it is the highlight of my week. I especially enjoy the British dramas like The Way We Live Now -- David Suchet was brilliant! I also enjoyed The Cazalets, My Uncle Silas, the very moving All the King's Men, and The Murder of Stephen Lawrence. I look forward to your next production!

Shannon McMullin
Halifax, N.S. Canada




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
It was very hard to watch this true story of the deaths of many babies within the United Kingdom during the 1980s and '90s.

While there are still good doctors who watch over and care for their patients, sadly enough, one bad apple spoils the whole lot. I could not help but have the feeling that these children were used as guinea pigs to further the knowledge of doctors who understood that this sort of surgery was more than likely a death sentence for their young patients. For a doctor to continue with a type of surgery/operation when patient after patient (children, no less) are dying, tells me that their ability to do the job was not a question that they considered at all. I agree with Professor Kennedy's estimation that the doctors' attitudes were that of "arrogance born of indifference."

This is heinous! Personally speaking, if an herb can fix the problem, then that's the route I take. I'm distrustful of doctors anyway; this story only fuels an already very large fire.

Cynthia Weathers
Newport News, VA




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Your engrossing story Innocents touches on an acutely painful subject unique to modern medicine. New technologies arise too quickly for established practitioners to adapt, re-tool, re-educate themselves, etc. No doubt Drs. Wisheart (some name for a heart surgeon!) and Janarda Dhasmana were rightly esteemed before the new open-heart techniques came along. They were too old, no doubt, to pick up on these modern techniques, given that a surgeon, in particular, must be something of a concert virtuoso among medical practitioners. In such a difficult area it must be extremely difficult to know if one is falling behind to an unacceptable degree. And given the normal failings in human beings, one's pride, reputation, social standing, and financial concerns must inevitably color the judgement of an elderly, respected surgeon who's been made redundant by the glamour of "high-tech miracle medicine" which does nothing to address the basic public health needs of the larger society, but does save these babies who, in former days, would have perished.

Of course, it is understandable that their mothers should deem this the most important medical advance of recent times, but a dispassionate reviewer of the medical needs of the society as a whole might feel some sympathy for Wisheart and Dhasmana, who find themselves forced to commit malpractice in high-tech medicine, when they could have continued to make valuable contributions to society at the level of basic medicine.

This does not excuse the lies, the cover-ups, or the outrageous misconduct of the Bristol Hospital involved in continuing to perform these operations after being ordered to stop. But it seems to me that the various oversight committees and authorities share as much of the blame as the doctors and the hospitals. Why did the system of checks and balances in such an extremely delicate area of high-tech medicine perform as badly as it did? And who are these people who failed to regulate and act when they should have to dump the whole burden of the responsibility for the tragedy on three all too easily demonized doctors, when they themselves should also have come under censure?

It looks as if the British legal system has, in fact, taken numerous steps to correct the balance. But my sense of it is that such problems will never go away. New technologies will always outstrip the abilities of persons trained in the old ones. Glitzy high-tech medicine will always be vaunted over basic public health. Mothers of deceased infants will always be convinced the doctors were monsters. Established doctors will always try to hold onto their reputations and their calling. It was very instructive to see how the production shows Dr. Dhasmana studying the films of his colleagues to learn what it is that he's doing wrong to cause all the fatalities.

What I hope happened -- and this is wishful thinking -- is that Dhasmana was able to pick up another career in India or Pakistan, where he is sorely needed, and where he would no doubt be in the forefront of medical practitioners. He would not, of course, be doing high-tech surgery, but surgery of the most basic kind. However, given the priorities of today's world, one could expect that two things would happen: one, India -- defensively snobbish against its own needs and interests -- would reject out of hand anyone who'd been disciplined by the English medical establishment; and two, Dhasmana himself might well feel that a "backward" nation like India would be demeaning to his high attainments.

The production was of a high quality standard for Masterpiece Theatre. The tragedy is that PBS, having been sabotaged by Jesse Helms and others in our wonderful Congress, continues to import British theater because it hasn't got the money to produce its own. Another problem is that Masterpiece Theatre is not making the English people and nation more accessible to the general run of Americans (this program being a notable exception). It rather reinforces all the stereotypes of stuffiness, elitism, monarchism, snobbery, and what appears to us to be a generally "up-tight" mentality.

Ultimately, however, it is a privilege to receive theater of so high a quality in the comfort of one's living-room.

Roy Lisker
Middletown, CT




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Though I viewed just the tail end of Innocents, I was thoroughly glued to what I was seeing. I ended up going to the Web site to get a detailed synopsis of such a tragedy. Life alone is precious, more so for a child.

Keith Baybayan
Lahaina, HI




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
The tragic deaths of children and the arrogance of the medical profession depicted in Masterpiece Theatre's Innocents are not confined to the NHS or to children or to England. My 83-year-old father died last June after a long illness. He spent his last 100 days in a "skilled nursing facility" at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $250,000. Never once was he capable of giving truly informed consent. He did not understand that he could refuse radiation and chemotherapy. He was never given a range of choices. Dad was of a generation that believed that "doctor knows best." As his son and holder of his durable power of attorney, I found it extremely frustrating -- usually impossible -- to pry reliable information about his condition and treatment out of the labyrinthine medical system. One especially arrogant ambulance nurse informed me that patients and their families are NEVER permitted to hear nurses' reports. I was made to feel like an ignorant peasant not capable of understanding the medical records, the fact that I am a knowledgeable scientist and widely read in medicine and biology not withstanding.

My heart ached as I watched these loving, vulnerable parents struggle through suffocating fear as they struggled against moral mendacity to help their innocent little children. Too, too sad.

David Haupt
Livermore, CA




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Dr. Wisheart and Dr. Dhasmana deluded their patients about their choices, and I find their actions infinitely more despicable than the murders that I read about in the newspapers everyday. To give Wisheart his pension and let Dhasmana claim his sad loss of livelihood is a pale, pathetic form of redress. Like the first parent in the movie, I pray that there is an afterlife and that these two creatures suffer the same sort of fate the angels under their knives had to go through.

Dan Seal
Santa Clara, CA




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Innocents was a powerful and very moving program. I wasn't sure I could watch it when I saw that it concerned young children, as I have a very soft heart when children are the subject of exploitation. But this program was done in such good taste and non-exploitative ways that I could watch and hope that the parents get some sort of compensation for their loses. Thank God Wisheart was struck from the rolls. The other one, Dhasmana, should have been as well! Thank so much for broadcasting the program. I hope to see more worthwhile stories in the coming months.

June Gregson
Monrovia, CA




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I wish Innocents had explained why the doctors continued to perform neonatal heart surgeries in the face of evidence that something was wrong with their procedures. Was it pride? Hubris? Their inflated medical egos? Was it fear of what their peers would think of them? Their loss of position or income? If it was all of these things, and I think it was, it would be better that they not be doctors, where the consequences of their actions were so devastating for these children and their families.

John Holland
Anaheim, CA




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Thank you for a remarkable accounting of the tragic loss of children's lives over two decades, due to incompetence and a lack of oversight and peer review. How could this little fiefdom amass power over unquestioning professionals who worked so hard to resuscitate the children led to their deaths with poor surgical technique and a lack of ethics? Were there well-meaning physicians with poor technique who were deluded into seeing themselves as the saviors of these ailing children? I think so, for they operated in complete isolation of their employers and professional peers at large. They appeared to be self-serving, in that a large number of hearts were not buried with the victims but were kept by the hospital without permission. They not only killed children, they caused so much pain and anguish that a significant number of surviving parents took their own lives. They really shredded the fabric of the marital bond between the parents. Yet, many struggled on to pick up their lives and to bear children subsequently. What a testament to the human spirit. An artistic piece worthy of witnessing the horror generated by these indifferent professionals mediating between life and death. Heaven help us.

Rosalene Dixon
Cambridge, MA




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I enjoyed Innocents. My son, Jacob, (8 years old) has a congenital heart defect. He has endured three heart surgeries -- including one open-heart procedure. He will need more surgery. The end left me hanging -- what are the positives that came out of this? It is so great we live here, near Texas Children's Hospital. The surgeon at TCH is awesome. My concern is when parents of heart kids see this show -- PBS did not have an information line, list of parent groups, or Web sites to seek out to comfort and help for these parents (me included). I hope PBS will continue to do these types of shows. Just give HOPE at the end. Thanks.

Jamie Gartner
Conroe, TX




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
It is a sad, sad day when the lives of innocent children are lost, especially so deliberately. Compassion, empathy, love, and caring for each other as individuals has been lost. The almighty dollar (greed) has taken over so many lives. There are so many takers in this world with no regard for human lives whatsoever. Life is a precious gift. My heart goes out to the children who died, and their parents and families and friends. May the Lord Bless & keep them.

Patricia Walters
Houston, TX




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I watch little television and very few programs about doctors. But I was familiar with the Dhasmana affair and wanted to see how the hospital staff reacted to the problem and the doctor (Bolsin) who reported it. Some 30 years ago, I resigned as chairman of a medical department when the staff failed to support my recommendations regarding a disreputable staff physician. A few years later, this same physician began similar questionable activities at another hospital. This time, however, his erroneous (bizarre) diagnoses prompted investigations by the CDC that found his work grossly inaccurate. The doctor abruptly left the city, lest his licensure be challenged. When the local newspaper investigated his previous conduct my earlier efforts to restrict his privileges were made public. I hold little respect for those staff physicians who failed to act initially.

Lee Sataline, M.D.
Cheshire, CT




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Russell Baker's introduction to Innocents is puzzling. Is he truly setting it forth as a fascinating story about doctors struggling to maintain their self-respect, doctors whose patients just happen to be children? This uniquely American perspective seems uniquely disturbing. Richard Lewis


Read Russell's Baker's introduction to Innocents.



Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I watched Innocents, and was appalled at the horror of what happened in that hospital. However, I thought it was one of the most poorly done productions I had ever seen. About three-fourths of the film was nearly impossible to see since it was filmed with virtually no light. There were scenes where the only thing I could make out was a little light here and there. I never really knew what any of the characters looked like because they were always filmed in the dark. What's with this obsession with filming in the dark? The hospital, the homes, the offices -- everything DARK! Perhaps this was to create an effect, but all it created in me was intense anger that I could not see anything. I almost turned it off countless times but stayed with it because I was interested in what happened. As a film, it was TERRIBLE.

Carol Pasco
Manistee, MI



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