Millions of viewers will tune into Coronation Street tonight (8.30pm) to see one of its most popular characters, Hayley Cropper, commit suicide in a controversial right-to-die plot.
Julie Hesmondhalgh, who plays Hayley, has praised the soap for starting ‘a conversation’ about assisted suicide.
The actress, whose character will be seen committing suicide after a battle against incurable cancer, joined the soap in 1998 to play the Street’s first transsexual and became a fans’ favourite courtesty of her on-screen romance with cafe owner Roy, played by David Neilson.
The storyline is being played out as former lord chancellor Lord Falconer of Thoroton launched a bid to legislate on the controversial issue with his Assisted Dying Bill, which would enable terminally ill patients to request assisted dying, subject to a range of safeguards.
The soap star said it had been ‘a responsibility’ and ‘a real privilege’.
She said: “I’m a member of the British Humanist Association so I have quite strong views in favour of it, obviously with all the constraints that have to be carefully laid out to make sure it’s not abused. I think everybody who is in favour of that bill will be at pains to say that as it is so easily exploited and misused in the wrong hands.
“When you see the cases that have gone through, it’s hard not to be in favour of it. When you see people whose minds are extremely keen and alert but whose bodies have gone, it’s heartbreaking. I wouldn’t want to live in that pain and anguish, or see my family and friends go through it. I’ve always really understood Hayley’s decision.”
The Samaritans charity, which advised producers on the storyline, has warned that the scenes of Hayley’s death from a drugs overdose could cause a risk of copycat suicides and Care Not Killing, a campaign group opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide, said the soap was ‘in great danger of normalising an occurrence that is actually very rare indeed’.
Click here to read a special interview and tribute to Hayley Cropper by TV Times