Tonight Hayley Cropper died. If you’re a Coronation Street fan, you’ll know who that is, and probably shed a tear – discreetly or otherwise – as the soap bid adieu to one of its most-beloved characters.
Even if Corrie’s not your thing, you’ll still probably know about Hayley: her decision to kill herself, in the face of incurable cancer, has made newspaper headlines from the entertainment section through to news, health and opinion.
Especially opinion. Everyone seems to have one on assisted suicide - that most emotive of subjects.
The Samaritans warned that this storyline could inspire a rash of copycat suicides.
Julie Hesmondhalgh, who plays Hayley, is a strong advocate for the right to euthanasia. There are a million other standpoints.
Should soaps like Corrie feature such a storyline?
I believe so.
For starters, soaps pride themselves on truthfulness and realism, and it’s a reality that people get sick, with no hope of recovery, nothing in front of them except lingering, painful death.
It’s reality that some would choose to shuffle off this mortal coil on their own terms, rather than drag it out to satisfy another’s moral code.
If Coronation Street never dealt with “heavy” issues, limiting itself to fluffy melodramas about relationships, comical misunderstandings and what-not, it’d be nothing but a less-pretty version of Hollyoaks.
It could be argued that primetime entertainment is no place for debates on assisted suicide.
But everything needs a mixture of tones, even broad, mass-appeal soaps; happy moments don’t really mean anything without darker ones to measure them against.
It’s like adding shade to a painting, giving it depth; call it “television chiaroscuro”.
Also, art justifies itself, within reason.
A TV drama, like a novel or piece of music, doesn’t need to justify itself morally or any other way; as Oscar Wilde said, all that matters is whether art is good or bad.
Obviously you couldn’t have some dingbat screaming Nazi propaganda or proselytising for paedophilia on TV.
But that’s clearly beyond the beyonds, by any normal standards, and a world removed from a warm-hearted show like Corrie, addressing an issue with gentleness and tact.
And contrary to warnings about copycats, episodes like tonight’s can sometimes help people.
I still remember reading about a man who decided not to kill himself after Ken Barlow was stopped from doing likewise by Bet Lynch in the 1990 Christmas episode.
She put Ken’s problems in perspective, convinced him how precious his life was.
She inadvertently, but happily, did likewise for this man watching.
His life, he realised, had dignity and grace.
Hayley’s dying did too, and deserved to be aired.