Two Eden mothers are taking on producers of TV soap Emmerdale over a storyline they say devalues the lives of people with Down’s Syndrome.
A character in the show, Laurel, is set to find out she is pregnant with a child who has an extra chromosome, resulting in her choosing to have an abortion.
The controversial storyline was criticised by British actress Sally Phillips — best known for her role in the Bridget Jones films — who is an advocate for those with Down’s Syndrome and called the plot “irresponsible” in the national press this week.
Her stance is echoed by Cristina Bowman, Milburn, founding member of a group called DiffAbility which often works with the actress.
Cristina said her son, Max, who has Down’s Syndrome, and others with the condition, were devastated to learn that a baby could be “got rid of” for being “like them”.
She said: “Many adults are being shielded from the programme, so as to spare them hurt, but what of the wider implications?
“What if the community sees this storyline and thinks people with Down’s Syndrome are not worthy members of society? There is enough prejudice against this minority group without adding to it.”
Claire Green, of Penrith, whose three-year-old daughter Tia has Down’s Syndrome, added: “By showing the child as having Down’s Syndrome, I feel it will almost make it more acceptable to abort life that is compatible with life, purely because of a disability, whilst focusing on a community that is fighting so hard for equality at the moment and hurt many people along the way.”
The pair and 33 adults with Down’s Syndrome have sent a video and letter to Emmerdale producers, suggesting an alternative plot line.
“We want to be valued and respected. All people with Down’s Syndrome matter and have a right to life. Please don’t show the world any different,” they wrote.
The letter was supported by adults with Down’s Syndrome including Clair May Minett — an advocate for those with the condition; actress Bethany Asher and model Kate Grant.
A spokesman for ITV Studios said: “Viewers who watch Emmerdale will know Rhona and Marlon have a much loved son, Leo. Leo has Down’s Syndrome and for the last nine years he’s been on screen portraying a happy, fun-loving boy who is very much wanted and cared for by his parents and family.
“After much consideration and extensive research, Emmerdale decided to tell the story of Laurel and Jai and their choice to terminate their pregnancy.
“The full context of Laurel and Jai’s story will be portrayed in detail in forthcoming episodes, because understandably the couple only reach this heart-breaking decision after much soul-searching.
“Emmerdale felt the story of thousands of couples who make this choice every year, feeling unable to talk about it, needed to be told.
“Emmerdale made the conscious editorial decision to portray this storyline to reflect what happens to thousands of couples throughout the UK who make the painful decision each year to terminate their pregnancy after a prenatal diagnosis.
“And we take our responsibilities extremely seriously when portraying such sensitive issues.
“Before the filming of Laurel and Jai’s story, the programme consulted widely with many individuals and organisations.
“These included parents with children who have Down’s syndrome, medical professionals involved in this field and groups such as Antenatal Results and Choices. We were careful to ensure our scripts were accurate to the process involved for parents facing such an agonising decision and representative of the variety of views and opinions about this difficult subject.”