Right-to-die campaigner Jane Nicklinson said Coronation Street’s assisted suicide storyline had “done our cause proud” after millions tuned in to watch the final scenes of one of its most popular characters Hayley Cropper.
Viewers saw Hayley, played by actress Julie Hesmondhalgh, take an overdose after giving up her struggle with incurable cancer.
She has praised the soap for starting “a conversation” about assisted suicide and Mrs Nicklinson, whose husband Tony suffered from locked-in syndrome and died in 2012, said the show handled “such a sensitive subject well”.
Mrs Nicklinson, who has continued the legal fight started by her husband, said: “You have done our cause proud. Brilliant performance. Nobody should have to suffer.”
The actress, who joined the soap 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, has also spoken out in support of the storyline.
She said it had been “a responsibility” and “a real privilege” and said she had “always really understood Hayley’s decision”.
The storyline is being played out as former lord chancellor Lord Falconer of Thoroton launches 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 Samaritans charity, which advised producers on the storyline, has warned that the scenes of Hayley’s death from a drug 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”.
An ITV spokeswoman said the second episode last night, which culminated in Hayley’s death, pulled in a peak audience of 10.6 million viewers.
More than 100,000 tweets were sent about the programme, with around 8,000 messages being tweeted every minute towards the end of the episode.