The problem with TV dramas is that they make rare events appear common and so distort public opinion on key issues. One serious distortion of the truth involves assisted suicide and the implication that a hugely disproportionate number of people with serious illness or injury wish to kill themselves.
The British television soap Emmerdale is currently running one of these misleading storylines. Actor Pauline Quirke's character Hazel is involved in an assisted suicide plot after her tetraplegic son Jackson Walsh, who lost the use of his limbs following a horrific road crash in the soap last year‚ asked her to help him end his life by administering a lethal dose of tablets in his drink.
The Emmerdale case appears to be based on the tragic story of Daniel James, who suffered tetraplegia following a rugby injury and was helped to take his own life at the Dignitas facility in Zurich in 2008.
Just how representative was this case?
Spinal cord injury is actually not uncommon. About 11,000 new cases occur in the US every year and about 250,000 people are estimated to be living with the condition. About half of these would involve the cervical spine, with the strong risk of tetraplegia.
The Guardian reported in 2009 that amongst over one hundred people who had killed themselves at Dignitas over ten years only two had tetraplegia. It would be good if Emmerdale and television in general reflected this reality better. We need more programs about people who have been helped and supported to come through their spinal injuries to a place where they have found meaning and hope.
FULL BLOG: TV soaps and real life quadriplegics (Careful!/mercatornet.com)
Dignitas: Swiss suicide helpers (BBC)