Coronation Street is set to tackle the issue of “right to die” – an individual’s entitlement to undergo voluntary euthanasia – in a storyline concerning terminally ill character Hayley Cropper.
Hayley, played by Julie Hesmondhalgh who announced earlier this year that she was leaving the Street after 15 years, is famous for being the first transgender character in a British soap.
The ITV drama, in which Hayley has just been diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer, with six months' life expectancy, will see her character face “a huge moral dilemma” before deciding to end her life via euthanasia.
Hayley’s husband Roy, played by David Neilson, is set to be vehemently opposed to her decision.
“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,” Coronation Street’s producer Stuart Blackburn told the BBC.
The storyline will follow Hayley’s concerns about losing control as her disease begins to weaken her – plus the toll her physical incapacitation might have on the identity Hayley, who was born Harold, has adopted for so many years.
"The palliative care Hayley receives is superb but she is scared that the pain relief can cause confusion and a loss of clarity,” Blackburn said.
"She is concerned she could regress to being Harold, she's already had one such nightmare. She wants to die in peace with clarity of thought, she wants to die as Hayley - the identity she has spent her whole life fighting for," he added.
Speaking about her departure storyline in July Hesmondhalgh said: “I do feel really honoured to be given the opportunity to play this storyline because cancer in general is something that affects everybody.”
“Hayley’s issues of being a transgender was a great opportunity to bring an unusual issue into people’s living rooms and to teach them about something that was new to many. This is a chance to go through something that has touched pretty much everybody in one way or another.”
The actor said she was “inconsolable” the first time she read the script for her final storyline. “Every single page I was heartbroken because it’s a really strange thing. She’s not me, but she’s a massive part of me. She’s been a huge part of my life for over 15 years.”
Alex Ford, Chief Executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “Pancreatic cancer does not have a very high public profile so we are very grateful to ITV for raising awareness of it through Hayley’s story.
“At Pancreatic Cancer UK we support people affected by the disease. We understand all too well the devastating affect pancreatic cancer can have on those diagnosed, and their families.”
Hesmondhalgh said it would have been impossible for her to be written out of the show without dying because of the strength of Hayley’s relationship with Roy.
“It’s what I expected to be honest. I knew that ultimately I would have to be written out of the show because I’m leaving, and I knew that the story would have to honour Hayley and Roy’s relationship. Because of the unique nature of their bond, she couldn’t just up and leave.”