It’s been many years since I watched an episode of Coronation Street, so I was a bit surprised to find that the show’s writers are “political”, at least on some issues:
Many a soap-opera storyline has created a news story in itself. So it was in the case of Hayley Cropper, a character on a British soap, Coronation Street. News of what happens to Hayley, in an episode to be shown tonight, created a furore when the press release for the story went out last Tuesday. The dilemma for the writers was how to kill off a character who had been a mainstay of the programme since 1998, when she was introduced as the first transsexual character. The answer, provided by producer Stuart Blackburn, was to have the character dying of pancreatic cancer, but finishing herself off with a cocktail of drugs in an on-screen suicide.
Julie Hesmondhalgh, the actor who plays Hayley, called for a discussion on legalising assisted suicide. She was backed by Sara Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, who praised the show’s ‘sensible and sensitive handling of assisted dying’. Lord Falconer, whose Assisted Dying Bill will be introduced in the House of Lords in the coming months, penned an article in the Sun. The Sun’s editorial called for a change in the law and the newspaper published the results of a poll indicating that 69 per cent of Britons support the legalisation of assisted suicide for the terminally ill.
It is difficult not to suspect – despite the even-handedness of the treatment of the issue (the character’s on-screen husband, Roy Cropper, opposes Hayley’s decision) – that the programme is part of the well-funded campaign to legalise assisted suicide. Stuart Blackburn had previously explored the same issue while at a rival soap, Emmerdale. (He perhaps risks becoming the Jack Kevorkian of the soap world.) Hesmondhalgh was forthright about her support for a change in the law in several interviews, and many journalists seem poised to call again for the legalisation of assisted suicide.
But it is entirely appropriate that a fictional plotline is used to promote legalising assisted suicide. The reason that so many people wish to have the ‘right to die’ is based on the morbid imagination of the ‘worried well’, traded on so effectively by right-to-die campaigners. ‘What if it happened to YOU…?’ is the plotline of Dignity in Dying and other organisations that campaign for legalised assisted suicide.
There are arguments on both sides of this issue (personally, I’m in favour of making it legal), but there are concerns that less-than-scrupulous family members might attempt to “hurry” an elderly or infirm parent or relative to a decision that wouldn’t really be voluntary.
It’s also an issue that came up this weekend, as one of my online acquaintances (we’d never met in person, but we both belonged to a special interest mailing list and had had several email discussions) committed suicide with his wife last week. Maarten and Irma apparently faced an unpleasant future in their declining years and mutually decided that their time had come. While euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, it does not seem that Maarten and Irma followed the letter of the law in their case:
Euthanasia in the Netherlands is regulated by the “Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act” from 2002. It states that euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are not punishable if the attending physician acts in accordance with criteria of due care. These criteria concern the patient’s request, the patient’s suffering (unbearable and hopeless), the information provided to the patient, the presence of reasonable alternatives, consultation of another physician and the applied method of ending life. To demonstrate their compliance, the Act requires physicians to report euthanasia to a review committee.
The family is, understandably, not providing a lot of detail but said that they were found in bed, hand in hand and “together, peaceful and loving” but did not specify how they had died.
Becoming dependent on whomever or whatever, or seeing your partner slowly fading away, are situations we do not ever want to contemplate, therefore we have, in good health, clear of mind, together 150 years old, in our own bed, hand in hand, ended our lives.
At risk of sounding trite, I’m saddened that they chose to do this, but I respect their right to make that decision. It cannot have been an easy one. Rest in peace.