The suicide of a Coronation Street character dealing with terminal illness could lead to similar deaths, a leading support charity has warned.
Coronation Street’s Julie Hesmondhalgh said there was “an almost holy atmosphere” during her last scene when her character Hayley Cropper killed herself in the face of incurable cancer.
She filmed the scene in one take with David Neilson, who plays her on-screen husband Roy, and said she was “shocked” at how upsetting it was to watch it again.
But the Samaritans charity, which advised the producers on the storyline, warned 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.”
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.”
Hesmondhalgh said of the scene: “It didn’t seem like I was watching anything to do with me at all, it was just these two characters that I really loved and seeing the end of their love story, oh yeah there were tears. My husband was absolutely devastated.”
She said: “The way it had been directed was very carefully done. There was an almost holy atmosphere on set and we only did one take.
“Kay Patrick, the director, made sure that everything was in place before we went for it so we weren’t having to keep doing it over and over which is why it’s quite raw I think.”
The star, who joined the soap in 1998 to play the Street’s first transsexual, won the hearts of the nation with her on-screen romance with cafe owner Roy.
The screen couple have been at the heart of major storylines including being caught in Tracy Barlow’s web of deceit when she claimed Roy fathered her child in an attempt to steal their savings.
Hesmondhalgh said she had no problem being written out in such dramatic fashion, saying: “It would have been more convenient for me as an actor if I could have come back later on if work wasn’t working out for me but it would have been a complete betrayal of everything that we’ve done because they are the most steadfast and loyal and loving couple in continuing drama and they just would not have separated for any other reason apart from death.”
Her final episodes will be shown across two episodes next Monday.
In another interview, Hesmondhalgh called for a debate on the issue of assisted dying.
She told the Radio Times that her final scenes were not “beautiful” and were “necessarily agonising, because of her steely determination to end her own life”.
But she said that the storyline was “timely and appropriate” and that “there are no easy answers”, but added: “This is a conversation that needs to be had.”
A poll for The Sun found that almost three-quarters of Britons believe terminally ill patients should have the right to end their suffering like Hayley.
A YouGov survey found 73% of people supported a change to laws which ban assisted suicide so that dying patients can choose whether to end their suffering.
Some 69% said they would want the choice of having assisted dying made available to them if they became terminally ill, and 38% would consider helping a dying loved one take their life, compared with 23% who said they would not.