I never thought I’d be enough of a git to write to Points Of View and the like, but I just composed this open letter to the Emmerdale production team, and am now trying to find a way to send it to them.
Dear Emmerdale Production Team,
I see that lots of people have already contacted you regarding the proposed storyline in which Laurel and Jai choose to terminate a pregnancy following a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome. Many have expressed their dismay and their fears over the negative impact that such a storyline could have on public attitudes towards Down’s syndrome. Perhaps others may have contacted you to thank you for openly portraying a difficult ‘taboo’ subject on prime-time TV.
I am contacting you both as a mother who has first-hand experience of facing a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome and also as a writer. I think your storyline is too predictable, too safe, a tried-and-tested, clichéd and stereotypical presentation of the subject matter. It is, in a word, stale.
As a writer I am always looking for the story less told. Aren’t you too, as television programme-makers, also always searching for a new angle, a fresh twist, the never-before-seen view to grab public interest?
I can tell you from personal experience where the most difficult conversations lie when it comes to a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome, where the real taboo is. And it is not with termination of pregnancy.
The statistics should tell you that termination for Down’s Syndrome is far from being a ‘taboo’ or difficult subject. It is the accepted norm, it is what society at large considers the right, the best, thing to do in those circumstances. A storyline explaining and justifying Laurel and Jai’s decision is not needed. The majority of your viewers already understand why a couple would come to that decision, and they sympathise with it – because the majority of your viewers would do the same.
No, the real taboo is the treatment of women who decide to continue with their pregnancy following a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome. In many cases they face a complete lack of support for their decision, they are provided with outdated and negatively-biased information that borders on scaremongering, and subjected to repeated pressure to reconsider and to have a termination, even when they have repeatedly stated emphatically that they wish to continue the pregnancy. In cases where the local Health Trust allows late-term abortion for Down’s Syndrome, some expectant mothers have endured this pressure right up to birth. Some women have even been offered a termination on the day they arrive for induction of labour with a bag of nappies and baby clothes.
This is the real untold story of prenatal diagnosis. THIS is the difficult and important truth that needs to be told. It takes a great deal of determination and stubbornness to resist this kind of pressure. How many women have capitulated to this pressure and made an irreversible decision that they will mourn and regret for the rest of their lives? We do not need another story which justifies termination for Down’s Syndrome – such stories are ten-a-penny in the tabloid press, human interest features in which women paint a worst-case-scenario picture of Down’s Syndrome in order to justify their decision to have an abortion and to portray it as ‘an act of love’ undertaken to prevent ‘suffering’. It is never an act of love, it is an act of fear, fear born from long-held, but inaccurate and negatively-biased perceptions and stereotypes that will only be further perpetuated by yet another presentation of the kind of storyline you are proposing.
Some of your viewers may well be adults who themselves have Down’s Syndrome. How do you think you could ever justify Laurel and Jai’s decision to them?
I may be a git, but I am a git for a bloody good reason (this bit does not form part of the email).