Eastenders is a soap opera which is shown 3 times a week on channel 1. In 2000, the religious issue of euthanasia was portrayed in the story line.
Dot Cotton, a very religious woman, is asked by her best friend, Ethel, to help her commit suicide if she isn’t able to do it herself. This act is called voluntarily active euthanasia.
Ethel is suffering from heart failure and is taking morphine for her pain. She starts to collect the morphine tablets from her daily doses, and saves them so she can take them all in one go and kill herself. She soon realizes that there may be a time when she may not be able to do it to herself, so she asks Dot, her best friend, to do it for her.
Dot being very religious, seeks the advice of a priest to seek advice for her decision.
At the beginning Dot tells the priest what her problem is, and takes the view that what Ethel is asking her, is wrong.
The priest addresses the issue of whether it matters if we are just ending the terminally ill person’s pain, making it less painful for them to live.
Dot gives the vicar many reasons at why she should or shouldn’t go through with it. She quotes from the Bible- ‘god giveth life, and he taketh away’, but on the other hand we put animals down for these reasons, so why not human beings.
The priest comes back to these comments with many different reasons which should be taken into consideration-
‘Thou shalt not kill’
‘No one has the right to play God with a human life’
‘We all have bad days, and good days. Bad days are when we are feeling depressed, if we decide to make a rash decision on a bad day, and end our life, think of all the good days of happiness and great emotions we will be missing out on’
‘But surely, god forgives all?’ asks Dot, after listening to the vicars comments. This is quite a valuable question, but, it may be answered-
‘Yes, God forgives mistakes, but not murderers, where he is the one who takes life away. Little mistakes he will forgive, but not killing someone.’ This also has the idea that you have to be truly sorry. You can’t do something wrong just to get forgiveness afterwards.
With a heavy burden on her shoulders, Dot takes away the advice that the priest has given her. The following weeks we see that the pressure of Dot’s decision is affecting her normal life. She has a lot on her mind and can’t cope with anything else, such as working in the launderette. Her deterioration seems to also affect the people around her, although Ethel seems to be enjoying her life still. We feel sorrier for Dot who has to watch Ethel, who isn’t really that bothered about it, get more ill every day.
Over the following weeks afterwards, we see that Ethel is getting worse, and soon she ends up not able to move in her bed. This is the first point in which we really begin to feel sorry for her. From this point on we feel very sorry, not just for Dot, for both of them.
Dot feeling sorry for Ethel, makes the most important decision of Ethel’s life, and leaves an overdose of morphine pills on her bed side table.
We have learnt to feel sympathy for the situation that Dot and Ethel are going through. We are put into each of their shoes, and we imagine what it is like, and definitely feel sorry for both of them.
Ethel takes the pills, and dies in her bed, with Dot finding her the next morning in bed with a smile on her face. Up until this point eastenders have dealt with this issue in a sensitive way and have realistically shown the for’s and againsts of euthanasia, including the emotional trauma it brings for all those involved.
The funeral contains a lot of dramatic irony, as the audience seems to be the only ones, apart from Dot, who know what she is going through, and how Ethel really died.
The good thing about this plot, which may have been dealt with in other drama series, is that, it actually doesn’t stop there. Neither does a real-life situation like this. We see Dot returning to Ethel’s grave a few times, weeping at how she regrets what she has done. Dot being religious, believes that she should be punished.
At first, we don’t actually understand what is going on, as it was a few weeks, or months, until it started to kick into Dot what she had done.
She starts to steal things from the local shops, which is peculiar behavior for Dot, and not until she is seen in court do we understand that she wants to be punished for her sins. She starts to pester the judge who gave her a fine for stealing, where all she really wanted was to be put away in prison for a few days. The judge puts her ion jail for a few weeks, for pestering her, and not until this point does Dot also realize what she’s just done there as well.
Dot regrets a lot in her life and Eastenders has done well into let the viewers understand her guilt, and her pressure. Of course this has all got to be performed well by the level of good acting done by the actresses, which wouldn’t be as affective. A lot of research had to be done to get this issue done fully to the extent as it is realistic.
Overall, Eastenders has done very well in addressing the issue of euthanasia, following it through to the end, and making it as naturalistic as possible.
I don’t think that this story line was biased in any way, as it showed us throughout the whole ordeal the good and the bad side. Dot was seen as very confused, and looked at the situation from all perspectives. We also saw the response from the church, which can affect her decision. Everyone who watched was able to come to their own decisions by the information that was given to them. Eastenders did not take on one side of the argument and say that euthanasia was either bad or good.
This story line was done very well, and there is nothing that I think can improve it. It started with Ethel dying, and went all the way through to the after-math that Dot suffered. This is very realistic, as no one would commit euthanasia and then forget about it, and go on with their everyday life.