Emmerdale: Ofcom to assess complaints over assisted suicide plot?

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house last night when Emmerdale’s Jackson Walsh finally ended his life, with the help of his mother and partner, but the tissues have barely dried before the critics start flinging their two pence worth in.

We all knew it wouldn’t be pretty, but it is safe to say that the scenes, acted out brilliantly, were nothing we could have expected, and why? Because instead of making the end a lovely, peaceful drift off to sleep, producers gave a more realistic portrayal of the experience.

It would seem though that Emmerdale – who dare to cross the line into realistic storyline’s with real consequences and believable acting- could never win in this situation.

Had they, as critics are now saying they should have, played sad music while Jackson ‘drifted off’, whilst Aaron and Hazel wiped away a little tear, the ITV soap would have been slammed for ‘glorifying’ assisted suicide, for promoting it as the right thing to do even.

Yet when the scene that aired was of Jackson gagging whilst trying to gulp the cocktail of lethal drugs down, whilst his mother – face contorted in horror – sobbed hysterically and his partner kept losing his grip on the glass because he was shaking too much shaking, it was deemed ‘too horrific.’

In an interview released today by bosses at ITV, Mark Silcock worded it perfectly, explaining that the shows intention was never to promote assisted suicide, quite the contrary, so there had to be a distinct difference between the beauty and tenderness of the final goodbye of all three characters and the realisation of the actual death, which would never have been a beautiful moment.

In the interview, he commented: “We ensured it wasn’t beautiful – it is horrific, because it’s a horrific thing. Some people might have liked to have seen soft music in the background and for Jackson to slowly drift off to sleep. But that’s not reality and not what happens. We didn’t want to glorify it for one second. You see the love between the three of them in those scenes, which is beautiful, but what happens is not beautiful in any way”.

Yet, despite only a handful of complaints, based mainly on the time that the episode was shown, Ofcom have decided to assess the criticisms.

The storyline was never kept a secret and right at the very start, Aspire – a group which works to help people in the UK who are living with a spinal cord injury – has voiced its criticism of the scenes.

“It is no secret that Aspire has been outspoken on this topic since we first had an inkling of where the storyline was heading. Peter Stanford, chairman of Aspire, voiced our concerns in The Daily Telegraph a couple of months back, which caught the attention of the producers of Emmerdale,” a statement on the group’s website read. “Subsequently we were invited to address our concerns with them at their offices in London.

“As is plain to see, our suggestions that they move away from the suicide storyline and to show his journey back to independence in a positive light fell on deaf ears. Perhaps ratings count for more than reality.”

Expanding on its negative view of the plot, Aspire’s director of services Alex Rankin continued: “This storyline had the potential to be ground-breaking in its approach to disability, and to challenge misguided opinions on spinal cord injury. Instead, too often, the script has opted for poor stereotypes or sensational misrepresentation.

“I sincerely hope that the 1,200 people who will be paralysed by spinal cord injuries this year and their families, do not find themselves believing that Jackson’s story represents their future.”

It is so sad to see such excellent television programming be thrown into the spot light for these negative reasons. Last night’s Emmerdale was arguably the best episode for acting, directing and production that has ever graced our screens in the history of soap land, reaching out to everyone who watched it. In a world where we are all happy to watch storylines involving such horrors as murder, rape, kidnap and torture, not to mention the endless stream of violence and sex, why do we have to all suddenly tut and inhale deeply when we see something like this? Why? Because it makes us uncomfortable, uncomfortable because it is real and it is so believable and we can feel these characters pain, mainly because of the superb (and surely award winning acting). Also because it isn’t about a demon, or a monster.

It is tragic and a good tragedy always stirs emotions because it is designed to connect with the viewer and make them empathise and release emotions they would feel in that position.

Its a very good job Ofcom wasn’t around in Shakespeare’s time!