14 Jan

Snuff movie soap opera

“Hayley,” the transgendered character in Coronation Street, has declared that assisted suicide should be legalised. That’s all right then. So get your coat on gran and we’ll just nip down to the crem and book you in.

Assisted suicide should be legalised, the actress who plays cancer sufferer Hayley has said, as she argues she cannot imagine how anyone can see extreme cases of suffering and be against the right to die. Actually, it’s not just Hayley who issued this pronouncement: Julie Hesmondhalgh who played the part of stricken Hayley agrees: “It’s quite a simple thing for me to offer my support for the right-to-die campaign.” So real life mimics “art” – assuming people can still tell the difference between real life and what happens in the proletarian soaps. Meanwhile, back at ITV they are heftily advertising Hayley’s “tear-jerking death” which will be shown on screen next week. Why should we trust the judgement of a soap star? Well, she’s not only that: she has long been a member of that organisation for evangelical atheists, the British Humanist Association.

Naturally, being a respected TV personality – that oxymoron – Ms Hesmondhalgh does not favour any naff suicide. These things must be finessed. She says, “I have to put the caveat that it has to be properly done. You have to make sure people don’t go around killing elderly people, say just for the inheritance.”

She doesn’t offer any advice as to how this might be avoided.

Radio Four announced today that an opinion poll has indicated most of the general public agrees with the philosophical ethics of Hayley/Ms Hesmondhalgh. Is it only since the doctrinal collapse and theological squalor of the Church of England became terminal that the population of this country began to take its guidance on matters of life and death from the serialised sentimental hysteria of Coronation Street  – rather as we decide how best to “save Africa” as a result of sermons from the plutocracy of rock stars?

In fact there is already a serious and subtle debate about care for the dying. And this is being conducted among those who have responsibility and expertise: doctors, nurses, priests and those who run the truly humane hospice movement. Until the comparatively recent obsession with rights, these profound matters were considered with nuanced sensitivity summed up in the maxim: “Thou shalt not kill but need not strive too zealously to keep alive.” Thus the issue requires sensitivity and not the limitless opportunities for skulduggery which would arise if, cheered on by the square-eyed mob, society were to permit euthanasia and institutionalise it in the legal language of rights.

Care of the dying is not a matter of rights. It is the province of medical and nursing expertise, pastoral care, moral, theological and spiritual insight. We don’t get those virtues in the trivialised, caricature world of the ratings-obsessed TV soap operas.