ESRC Honors Coma/Consciousness Research for Outstanding Public Policy Impact

Celia and Jenny Kitzinger
Celia, left, and Jenny Kitzinger

The Celebrating Impact competition recognizes and rewards researchers who have achieved impact through outstanding research, knowledge exchange activities, collaborative partnerships, and engagement with different communities – and who received funding from Britain’s Economic and Social Research Council.

Since it was established nine years ago, the Celebrating Impact Prize has highlighted and recognized some of the ways in which ESRC-funded research impacts the economy and society. The awards for 2021 especially reflect contributions being made by the social sciences to helping communities and businesses navigate the challenges facing us including recovery from the global pandemic is critical to not only the UK but also globally.

All winners and finalists have demonstrated the impact of their work and illustrated its relevance and importance to society. They are already contributing to policy debates in their specialist areas and their influence will continue in years to come. 

This year’s prize categories are Outstanding Early Career Impact; Outstanding Business and Enterprise Impact; Outstanding International Impact; Outstanding Public Policy Impact; and Outstanding Societal Impact. Below we highlight the Outstanding Public Policy Impact winner. Check back for future blog posts focusing on the other prize categories. 

Outstanding Public Policy Impact

The winners of the Outstanding Public Policy award are sisters Jenny Kitzinger and Celia Kitzinger, both professors at Cardiff University. Social anthropologist Jenny Kitzinger is the director of research for impact and engagement and co-director of the Coma and Disorders of Consciousness Research Centre; experimental psychologist Celia Kitzinger is the  co-founder of the Open Justice Court of Protection Project, which won a “Real Impact’ Award from Emerald Publishing last year.

With proposing changes to the law to promote person-centered decision-making for ‘coma’ patients as the focus, their research has benefitted over 68,000 patients in prolonged coma, vegetative or minimally conscious states, as well as their families and friends.

Their ESRC-funded research into medical decision-making for patients in vegetative or minimally conscious states (prolonged disorders of consciousness) created impacts such as:

  • legal changes that ensure patients in a vegetative or minimally conscious state are not subjected to futile or unwanted life support if robust decision-making procedures have been followed, and clinicians and the family are in agreement on the best interests of the patient
  • ensured healthcare professionals are supported in making high-quality, well-informed decisions about all adult patients who are unable to speak for themselves by contributing, through impacts on case law and the insights provided by their research, to a detailed 100-page professional guidance on clinically assisted nutrition and hydration
  • Evidence from the research fed into the landmark 2018 Supreme Court judgment that doctors and families no longer need to go to court before removing all life sustaining treatments (provided correct procedures have been followed)

Frequently, patients were being kept alive for many years without any consideration of their best interests. “We found this partly to be due to a perceived requirement to refer cases to court if withdrawing clinically-assisted nutrition and hydration was being considered,” says Jenny Kitzinger.

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Hailey Lanford

Hailey Lanford is a senior at The George Washington University, studying English and linguistics. She is a SAGE global communications intern, Virginia Young Poets in the Community fellow, and enjoys exploring Washington, D.C.

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