Opinion divided over Peggy Mitchell suicide plotline


EastEnders' handling of Peggy Mitchell's suicide storyline has divided opinion.

In Tuesday night's episode of the soap, Peggy, played by Dame Barbara Windsor, took an overdose after she revealed her terminal cancer had spread to her brain and bones, despite her distraught sons Phil (Steve McFadden) and Grant (Ross Kemp) trying to talk her out of the decision.

Peggy's sons Grant and Phil are shown angry and upset by her decision to commit suicide (Kieron McCarron/BBC)

Samaritans, who worked alongside the soap's writers and researchers, praised EastEnders for showing the reality of suicide and the devastating effect it can have on the family involved.

The helpline's media adviser Lorna Fraser told Press Association: "Suicide is a topic that carries risk when you cover it because research shows the risk (that) if it's not handled properly, if it's sensationalised or romanticised, that it can influence imitative suicidal behaviour.

"There was a willingness to get this right so (EastEnders) got in touch with us quite early on when they were starting to develop Peggy's story and shared scripts with us which we gave advice on.

The pair try to talk Peggy out of her suicide in the episode  (Kieron McCarron/BBC)

"Overall our advice is around sticking with the reality of suicide so, as you're seeing already in the episodes that have broadcast, the struggle that Phil in particular and Grant and other members of the family have with Peggy's decision... and the devastation that is caused to families around this issue."

However anti-euthanasia organisation Care Not Killing said it was "extremely disappointing" that the "BBC is acting as the cheerleader for assisted suicide and suicide by killing off one of the best known and well-loved characters on British TV".

The organisation claimed that the BBC were ignoring the alternatives of "quality palliative and hospice care, along with home care" by screening the "pro-killing programme", which it said was the seventh such broadcast by the corporation since 2008.

Their claims were opposed by Dignity In Dying, which supports the legalisation of safe, assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults.

Peggy was joined by her friend pat Butcher in a hallucination before her death (Kieron McCarron/BBC)

Chief executive Sarah Wootton said the storyline highlights a "real issue" for those with terminal illness who may be considering assisted suicide.

She said: "While Peggy's tragic story is fictional, it highlights a very real issue which will resonate with many people who are suffering with a terminal illness. Nearly one terminally ill person takes their own life every day in the UK.

"No one should be put in the position Peggy was, agonising over whether her loved ones could or should help her to die. Nor should anyone feel forced to take their own lives behind closed doors or to travel to Switzerland to die, for example.

"Rather than feeling powerless in the face of a terminal illness, we believe, along with 82% of the public, that people should have choice and control at the end of life, including the option of doctor-assisted dying for terminally ill people if they want it."

Those affected by Peggy's story can contact Samaritans free of charge from any phone on 116123, email jo@samaritans.org or find the details for your local branch at .