Down's Syndrome abortion is a complex discussion, but at least it's being talked about

The Archers ran a poll asking whether characters should abort their disabled baby. Although the decision is far from simple, including the storyline is encouraging.

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The Independent Online

I have been physically disabled since birth. As a result, I have always believed that every life is equally valuable - or, to put it more specifically, that the life of a disabled person is never any less valuable than the life of a non-disabled person.

Personally, I disagree with abortion as a choice. Women in the West, particularly, have other options open to them if they find themselves unable to raise their biological children. Children can be placed in foster care, or placed up for adoption.

However, abortion on the grounds of disability makes me especially sad. Many would not agree with my views, however. This is a very sensitive issue that has raised strong feelings on both sides for many years.

So when BBC radio drama The Archers recently ran an online poll asking whether characters Mike and Vicky Tucker should abort their baby who would otherwise be born with Down’s Syndrome, many thought the poll was inappropriate. It is easy to see why. The question of abortion, on any grounds, can never have a simple multiple choice answer. For expectant parents, the decision is very rarely, if ever, an easy one to make.

To the BBC’s credit, they quickly expressed regret over the decision to run the poll, admitting that the issue was "too complex and sensitive."

The poll ran on The Archers website in early September, for the usual time of one week. One day after it was published, the BBC posted a response, saying it was sorry that listeners felt so strongly about the vote. It added that polls tend to reflect the storylines that are most talked about in the programme. However, the response also made it clear that the result of the poll would not affect the outcome of the storyline.

Polls, it said, are often about dilemmas facing characters in the programme. It recognised that the Tuckers' decision is more complex than those usually put to polls. However, it adds that "they are still faced with a stark choice one way or the other. So we didn’t think that representing that choice on the poll was trivialising the issue".

A BBC spokesman said they regretted any offence the poll may have caused, adding that the storyline has been well received by listeners and raises a number of important issues about Down’s Syndrome, informed by the advice and expertise of the Down's Syndrome Association.

The Down's Syndrome Association praised The Archers for its handling of the storyline despite the controversy, saying that producers have made sure it is accurate. They encouraged people to keep listening as the story unfolds.

The Archers has now been running for more than 60 years. Over this long period of time, British society has changed in many ways. In fact, perhaps because of its long history, the programme seems more than a little old fashioned to many young adults today. To disabled people, it is an unexpected pleasant surprise that this programme is starting to cover disability issues.

Facts must be faced - abortion is a thought that crosses the minds of many when told their baby may be born disabled. So it is easy to understand why the BBC wants to explore this part of the storyline.

The current Archers website describes the programme as a contemporary drama in a rural setting. Many disabled people would be very pleased to see the Tuckers continuing with the pregnancy, so that The Archers can become a little more contemporary by covering the very important issue of raising a disabled child.