A Troubling Coronation Street Plot and Why I Fear That Euthanasia Will Be Legal in 10 Years

Daily Mail (London), January 16, 2014 | Go to article overview

A Troubling Coronation Street Plot and Why I Fear That Euthanasia Will Be Legal in 10 Years


Byline: Stephen Glover

ONE of the most remarkable shifts in public opinion over the past few years concerns euthanasia. Not long ago, only a few seemingly rather cranky people campaigned in favour of it and 'assisted dying'.

But it seems lots of people in this country may now accept euthanasia. According to a poll in The Sun newspaper on Tuesday, 69 per cent of respondents 'would want the choice of assisted dying made available' to them if they became terminally ill. In an editorial, the paper endorsed assisted dying the practice of inducing death in a sick patient, usually by an injection.

Unless those who remain opposed to euthanasia marshal their arguments rather better than they have, I won't be surprised if euthanasia is introduced in this country within ten years, or even sooner.

The subject has been recently embraced by Britain's most popular soap opera, Coronation Street. I confess I inwardly groaned when I heard this was happening, though I scarcely ever watch the programme.

Suspicions that the soap was being used as a vehicle for pro-euthanasia propaganda deepened when it emerged that Stuart Blackburn Corrie's relatively new producer brought in to spice up the show a year ago had explored the same theme when he was in charge of rival soap Emmerdale.

But having bathed myself in recent episodes, and watched a preview of next Monday's climax, I'm not so sure. The story is that Hayley Cropper as sympathetic, decent and sensible a character as you could hope to find takes her own life in the final stages of terminal pancreatic cancer.

It might be worth mentioning here that this is not the first time Hayley has caused a commotion. In 1998 she was introduced as the first transgender character in a British soap. Hayley used to be a man.

My guess is that the programme's producer is pro-euthanasia, but understands that the essence of good drama is to show both sides of an argument. For a time Hayley's loving husband Roy resists her plan to kill herself, though he finally acquiesces in next Monday's undeniably moving episode when Hayley ingests her lethal cocktail.

By the episode at the end of next week, though, Roy is starting to resent what Hayley has done to him and blames himself for not stopping her. In other words, euthanasia is not presented as a 'win-win' for everyone concerned.

Others may disagree, but to me the storyline nonetheless seems fractionally to endorse euthanasia. I say this because Hayley is one of the most grounded and balanced characters in Coronation Street. If such a person can go through with it, the soap seems to be saying, then anyone can.

MOREOVER, Julie Hesmondhalgh, the actress who plays Hayley, has been proselytising in favour of euthanasia and assisted dying in a number of media interviews. This deepens the impression that Corrie may not be as neutral as Stuart Blackburn maintained on Radio Four's Today programme yesterday morning.

That said and this is crucial it cops out of the central moral issue. Hayley kills herself, being still mobile and in possession of her faculties. She tells Roy not to touch the glass (whose deadly contents she has herself acquired) or play any part in her suicide.

But it is so-called assisted dying, not simply the much more ancient practice of euthanasia, which lies at the centre of the current public debate. Lord Falconer, the Labour peer and former best friend of Tony Blair, has already tried to introduce an Assisted Dying Bill in the Lords, and in May is going to have another shot.

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