Coronation Street’s Julie Hesmondhalgh has praised the soap for starting ‘a conversation’ about the right to die.

The actress, whose character, Hayley Cropper, will be seen committing suicide after a battle against incurable cancer, joined Coronation Street in 1998 to play the Street’s first transsexual and won the hearts of the nation with 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 she had been surprised by the extent of the press coverage of the storyline because it was tied in ‘so completely'” with her character.

She told ITV’s Daybreak: “I thought that was very specific to her and that it wouldn’t really impact in this way, but it’s absolutely brilliant that it’s started this conversation about the right to die Bill and so on, so I couldn’t be more pleased about that because that’s all you can hope for that people talk about these things in a real way and a new way, so it’s been wonderful.”

Julie said the storyline was ‘such a responsibility’, adding: “I did feel the weight of that, but it was a real privilege to do it.”

The Samaritans charity, which advised producers on the storyline, warned that the scenes of Hayley’s death from a drugs overdose could cause a risk of copycat suicides.

A spokeswoman told the Daily Mirror: “We want to limit the risk of copycat suicides. That is why we advised them to give no details of the medication or how she obtained the drugs.

“Portraying an overdose, for example, as a gentle and peaceful way to die, can be very dangerous and bears no resemblance to the reality of slow liver failure afterwards.

“We have advised them to make it as safe as possible, but we can’t stop them from doing it. We might not agree, but dramas all, at some point, cover these issues.”

Care Not Killing, a campaign group opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide, said Coronation Street was ‘in great danger of normalising an occurrence that is actually very rare indeed’.

The controversial storyline will reflect the split in opinion in the right-to-die debate with both Roy and Hayley’s friend Fiz Stape (Jennie McAlpine) struggling to deal with Hayley’s decision.

Coronation Street producer Stuart Blackburn said: “This is a very sensitive issue and we will be exploring the effects of her decision on husband Roy, who has a huge emotional and moral dilemma over her choice to die this way.

“Not everyone will feel Hayley’s decision is the right one and we fully respect this; for that reason we will be exploring both sides of the debate on screen.”

Hayley’s final episodes will be shown across two episodes on Monday (January 20).