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Doctors condemn Undateables show

Published 24/06/2015

Doctors voted to raise concerns with programme-makers over The Undateables
Doctors voted to raise concerns with programme-makers over The Undateables

Doctors have accused reality TV programme The Undateables of exploiting people with disabilities for entertainment.

Dr Rachael Pickering said the Channel 4 show had left her "disturbed at being part of a society that might seek to view disabled people as a source of comedy".

She told the British Medical Association's (BMA) annual representatives meeting that as a doctor she has a a duty to speak out if she thinks patients are at risk of harm or being exploited.

"The very name of this show is frankly offensive," she added.

Delegates voted "overwhelmingly" in favour of raising their concerns with the programme's producers and television regulators.

Dr Pickering, of the BMA's Yorkshire branch, said that in particular, she was concerned that people with conditions such as autism - which her teenage daughter has - are not able to give proper consent as they are not able to comprehend that others may want to take advantage of them.

"How do these programmes' producers ensure that participants who have autism or intellectual impairment can give truly informed consent to this potential consequence of them becoming reality TV stars?" she asked.

But Dr Anita Coutinho, of the BMA's North Thames Junior Doctors Committee said she was arguing against the "emotive" motion as the suggestion that the show's participants were at greater risk of exploitation than others risked "creating further prejudice".

"TV programmes are often exploitative in nature and where do you draw the line?" she asked.

"Maybe the BMA should be contacting all reality TV programmes to check on the wellbeing of participants thrown out of X Factor, or the young drink tourists being filmed in Magaluf.

"Ultimately this programme seems to look at people with challenging conditions who are considered to be undateable, but then proves that they are not. It is in fact raising awareness of these conditions, normalising what people sadly see as abnormal."

Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the BMA's medical ethics committee, said it "does seem appropriate to write to the producers to check how all the participants have capacity of consent".

"I strongly suspect, like Rachael Pickering, that these programmes are not made solely to provide information and to aid understanding of vulnerable and often marginalised groups, but that they're made to entertain and to provoke laughter," he told delegates in Liverpool.

The description for the show on the Channel 4 website reads: "People living with challenging conditions are often considered 'undateable' - this series meets a few and follows their attempts to find love."

Doctors said its four series have featured people with Down's syndrome, Tourette's syndrome, facial disfigurement and autism among other conditions.

A Channel 4 spokeswoman said: "Now in its fifth series, the twice-Bafta nominated The Undateables is a much-commended series, following a range of people who say their ability to find love is affected by an impairment or challenging condition, and charts their quest to meet someone in an image-obsessed world where anyone who diverges from what's considered to be 'normal' is often deemed to be 'undateable'.

"Programme-makers work very closely with the contributors, their families and carers to ensure that they are fully aware of what taking part entails and many of the contributors have taken part in more than one series.

"They also work with a wide range of experts and charities to ensure all aspects are handled in a warm, insightful and sensitive manner."

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