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Emmerdale has responded to criticism from Down's syndrome rights campaigners about its latest storyline for characters Laurel Thomas and Jai Sharma.
The ITV soap came under fire when it announced last week that the couple will discover this that they are expecting a baby, but will decide not to go through with the pregnancy after being told the baby would be born with Down's syndrome (opens in new tab).
Since the emotional storyline was confirmed, campaigners have rallied to have Emmerdale scrap the plot, with a petition (opens in new tab) calling for show bosses to 'bin Emmerdale's prejudiced storyline about Down's syndrome' attracting over 15,000 signatures so far.
Rachel Mewes, who started the petition, penned, 'It has shaken me to the core that a popular TV show watched by millions has sought to perpetuate the antiquated stereotyping, embedded and, often unconscious, prejudice combined with misleading information about Down's Syndrome that is endemic in our society.'
ITV has now released a statement explaining that the sad plot line will explore the devastation that is faced by real life couples who make the decision to terminate a pregnancy for the same reason.
"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," the statement says.
"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."
Meanwhile, series producer Laura Shaw explained that the story has been "arguably the most challenging and difficult writing our writing team had ever been tasked with".