Last Night’s TV – Hannah: the Girl Who Said No to a New Heart

What a subtle and often incredibly understated rollercoaster ride of emotion this documentary from Martin Hicks was. The focus of the film was teenager Hannah Jones who, in 2008, became the subject of public debate about the veracity of this child’s decision not to have life saving treatment.

Hannah needed a heart transplant and, having undergone a lifetime – albeit a short one, but it was her forever – of hospitals and operations, Hannah didn’t want any more and chose to refuse the life saving transplant.

Now I must preface what I’m about to say by stating that Hannah’s parents, Kirsty and Andrew are remarkable people; they’re clearly wonderful parents who love their children very much, however, when we first saw Hannah discussing how she reached her decision, I had to question what I felt was their inertia.

Doctors told Hannah that if she didn’t have a transplant, the likelihood was that she would die, and soon. Kirsty said that when the medical team required Hannah’s permission to put her on the transplant list, she couldn’t be in the room for fear that she might influence Hannah.

Andrew felt the same in that – though he wanted to be in the room at that moment to support his daughter – he didn’t want to influence her decision either. We then heard Hannah saying that when she was asked outright to make a decision as to whether to have a transplant or not, she looked at her father and thought, “Dad, tell me what to do, I don’t know what to do.”

He didn’t advise her one way or the other, worried, as I mentioned, that he would be in effect inflicting his will upon Hannah. Personally, I would’ve said to her, “You need to have it done. Do it. Give your permission.”

Hannah is a very articulate, very intelligent young lady and clearly capable of considered thought and opinion, however, at the time, regardless of how mature she was – and she was and is – she could have no idea how her opinions and world view would change in ten, twenty, thirty years time. Her parents however would’ve been aware of that, and were it me in their shoes, I would’ve had no compunction about influencing her decision, and it would’ve been to try to live at all costs.

In fact, I have to say that initially, in perhaps the first half of the film, I got the feeling that Kirsty in particular was herself wearied by the whole thing and wanted it over. I changed my mind about that by the end of the film and came to realise that this wasn’t a case of someone who’d been a carer for so long they simply wanted it to end, it was just that Kirsty and Andrew are liberal with a capital L. They’re people who value autonomy and clearly wish to instill that value into their children.

I can understand that, and there’s no question that they are lovely people; the whole family are. Hannah’s siblings, grandparents – they’re all genuinely nice people, and I’m immensely glad that in the end, Hannah chose to have the transplant.

But to harp on a bit longer about Kirsty and Andrew not wishing to influence Hannah, one segment in particular I found rather ironic. Andrew had taken the children to Cornwall for a holiday and actively persuaded Hannah – against her initial wishes – to go on roller coaster rides.

He won out and Kirsty loved the rides, even though she believed she’d hate them, being scared of heights and “going fast.” Were I to have been Andrew at that point, I’d have said something along the lines of, “See? You were afraid of it, you didn’t think you could do it, you didn’t want to do it. But you did it and now you’re glad you did. Can you please think of your transplant in the same way?”

I really and truly don’t intent to criticise Kirsty and Andrew at all, except that I did think their stiff upper lip attitude was far too stiff. A bit of actual human emotion doesn’t hurt now and again. But there again, it’s always very easy to do the whole I’d-have-done-it-this-way thing when it isn’t you who’s having to do it.

But nonetheless, I would’ve done everything in my power to convince Hannah to do whatever it took to carry on living. It all – thank God – turned out well though, so ultimately and with hindsight, the right decisions were taken.

I understood things perfectly from Hannah’s point of view too, but from an adult’s perspective. I too faced open heart surgery after suffering heart failure but I couldn’t have the operation when I initially needed it as I was too ill and wouldn’t have survived the anaesthetic. I then, like Hannah, had weekly trips to hospital and it seemed someone was permanently poised with a needle and I almost rattled from the meds.

I too had a spell of thinking, “it’s not worth it; I just want this over now, I want to die”. But I’m 42. No, that’s not elderly and I think differently now – I’ll have the op when I have to, but am for now stable on medication, but Hannah was a little girl who had, and now blissfully does have, a whole life ahead of her.

But my fear as the film wore on and the dates went forward was always that she may say ‘yes’ to a transplant but too late. I was worried that, like I had been at the time this was an issue for me, when it came to the life or death time, she’d be too ill to survive surgery. Thank God she wasn’t.

I was immensely touched by her story, and moved to tears often by her bravery, modesty and ability to make rational, unhurried decisions. I just hope that now, Hannah will go on to flourish and enjoy a full life.

And on a final note to Kirsty and Andrew, your courage and indomitable spirit was remarkable too, but I’m sorry to say, I still can’t agree that your decision not to bring any influence to bear on Hannah was the right one. However, I admire you both greatly and well done for being such brilliant parents.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.