Emmerdale urged to ditch ‘disturbing’ Down’s syndrome storyline by charity campaigners

Emmerdale has been urged to ditch a storyline by a Down’s syndrome charity, amid claims it promotes a “pro-termination” stance.

Laurel Thomas and her partner Jai learn they are expecting a child in the Yorkshire-based soap.

But the pair reportedly face a decision whether or not to terminate the pregnancy once they find out their unborn child has Down’s syndrome.

It has been described a “disturbing” by campaigners, who say the storyline is “unnecessary”.

Wendy O’Farrell, founder and former chief executive of Down Syndrome charity Ups & Downs, urged the series producers to rethink the plot and consider the feelings of people across the UK with the condition.

Her 24-year-old son Harry Whitaker has Down’s syndrome and is a “mega fan” of Emmerdale, reports LeedsLive.

She said: “The ‘balance’ is already so heavily weighted in favour of a negative view of Down Syndrome, with its accompanying ‘pro-termination’ lobby, that all you will actually do is add further weight to that already overwhelming opinion,” she said.

“My son Oliver has Down Syndrome and is now 24 years old, and just happens to be an Emmerdale ‘mega fan’ almost to the point of obsession.

“Have you considered for even a moment, how children and adults with Down Syndrome who follow your programme will react to two of their favourite characters discovering excitedly that they are to have a baby, and then deciding to terminate the life of that child because it has Down Syndrome?

“Can you imagine these young people and adults, turning to the person or family they are watching with and asking ‘Why are they going to do that to their baby because their baby is like me?’

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“Are you happy with the thought that your story might make so many of your fans who happen to have disabilities, question for the first time, their place and value in this world – and even their actual right to life?”

In response, series producer Laura Shaw has said that the crew have “fully researched” the storyline.

The team behind the show say although the issue is a tough watch, it is “a really important one to highlight”.

She said: “Right from the moment the idea was first mooted for this storyline, we knew it was one that if we went ahead with, it had to be fully researched, which involved us speaking to medical professionals, charities and parents with lived experience.

“Listening to women and men telling us their stories, hearing what brought them to make the difficult decision to terminate their pregnancies, cemented for us that this was a topic rarely shown on soap, but a really important one to highlight.

“Translating what we had learnt into Emmerdale scripts led to what was arguably the most challenging and difficult writing our writing team had ever been tasked with.

“What we have produced and Charlotte and Chris have both brilliantly brought to life, is some of the most heartbreaking and emotional episodes of Emmerdale viewers will have ever seen.”

Jane Fisher, director of Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC), said: “We have over 30 years’ experience of supporting women and their partners through the painful circumstances of ending a wanted pregnancy after a prenatal diagnosis.

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“Thousands of parents go through this every year, but it is rarely spoken about. This can lead to bereaved parents feeling very isolated in their grief.

“We are really pleased that such a popular drama as Emmerdale is tackling this story in such an empathetic and thoughtful way.

“I have been particularly impressed by how they have valued input from us to help make sure it is as true as possible to the complex reality for couples. It won’t make for easy viewing but will do much to break the silence around this sensitive topic.”