Should Children and Babies Be Killed off on Soap Operas?

By Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman

Jason Thompson and Teresa Castillo as grieving parents

Back in the day … way back, actually … it was unheard of to kill off children, especially babies, on soaps. The traditional audience was, after all, stay at home moms who watched or listened to their soaps while rolling out pie crust or ironing the family laundry.

Today, the taboo has long since been abandoned, though such storylines are still distasteful to many viewers. Thus the dilemma lingers. Though this high stakes plotting has engendered much good drama, some of it award-winning, it’s done at the cost of making at least part of the audience queasy.     

This rule was first broken in the early 60s, when As the World Turns killed off Chucky, Lisa’s son, in a car accident. Others followed. In the late 80s, Laura, Brooke’s daughter, was similarly killed in a very affecting storyline All My Children. Just this year, young Delia also was killed in a car accident on The Young and the Restless, bringing about many nominations for the show in next week’s Daytime Emmys.

The controversy sharpened this month when General Hospital chose for a premature baby, Patrick and Sabrina’s son Gabriel Drake Santiago, to die at the age of barely six months.  The baby was born prematurely after Sabrina and Patrick were run off the road by a bad driver, who this week was revealed to be young Rafe. Sam, a private investigator, is currently investigating to find out who caused the accident.

The storyline has been given lots of time by GH.  Sabrina and Patrick were seen tending to their baby in the ICU for over a month.  The baby’s death led to many dramatic moments, such as when grieving mother Sabrina developed temporary amnesia, not even remembering the death of the baby, and planning her “wedding” to Patrick  (which had taken place seven months prior) the day of the funeral.   The baby’s real funeral is scheduled to take place this week.

Storylines like these, controversial or not, certainly bring out the best in the actors involved.  Jason Thompson, who is always excellent as Patrick, was so good he frequently upstaged Teresa Castillo as Sabrina – quite a feat since she, too, was in top form.  Also excellent in this storyline has been Marc Samuel who plays Teresa’s best friend and moral support Felix.

Yes, yes, I know times have changed. Graphic violence, grisly death and raw treatment of life’s calamities in general, once confined largely to pulp fiction and film noir, now are standard fare on television drama. I get it. Even so, when children are involved … count me among the queasy.

So what do you think?  Is it okay to kill off babies and children on soap operas, or are these storylines just too hard to take?  Drop me a line.

Daytime Emmy Hostess Announced

The hostess of next week’s Daytime Emmys will be Kathy Griffin.  She’s fast and funny should certainly keep the proceedings moving and most entertaining. Indeed, Ms. Griffin is such a draw, she may help the ceremony recoup a good portion of the audience it is certain to lose by moving from television to internet broadcast. I’ll be watching on next Saturday, June 21 at 8PM EST. 


  1. antmunoz says:

    I thought Chuckie Shea died in the early 70’s. And his death was preceded by the deaths of both Meta’s and Jo’s sons on GUIDING LIGHT and SEARCH FOR TOMORROW in the 50’s. (Interesting that Mary Stuart was JO and, many years later, Meta.).

    But…GH has killed too many children in too short a span of time. And it’s disturbing. It’s hard enough when shows kill off “next generation” characters before they can take on leading character status (Ben Reade, Henry Cooper Bradshaw, Bryant Montgomery, Jennifer Munson, etc., all come to mind.). Who will be the next teen set on GH if half the kids don’t survive preschool?

  2. Beth CP says:

    The “Gold Standard” storyline for a child passing before its’ parents (speaking for myself, only), is BJ’s heart being given to Maxie. Completely character driven from start to finish with every beat of fallout played with beauty and conviction by every actor involved. Compare that to what has has occured with the current storyline with preemie Gabriel and it suffers in comparison for it’s plot point driven agenda. RC’s penchant for shock and awe, as well as shallowly drawn surface characterizations for his actors leaves this viewer feeling little if anything at all. I actually got more emotional seeing Sonya Eddy’s Epiphany comforting Jason Thompson’s Patrick (who has been quite good, given the narrow parameters he’s squeezed into here), when reiterating the loss of her own son, Stanford (Kiko Ellsworth during the Guza era). And while I know she’s trying, Teresa Castillo’s Sabrina remains for me a character that is both superfluous and annoying. I’m actually looking forward to having her off screen for her real life maternity leave as I find her acting not much more than competent. To have made this story more than what it was demands an actress who is dramatically skilled and emotionally compelling. I don’t mean to be harsh in my critique of her, but in her defense much of the “problem” I have with this material (as well as GH overall), stems from this head writer. Some people are quite happy with him. This viewer is not.

  3. Chere Marlena,

    Good to have you back writing about a weighty and thoughtful topic again.

    Child killing has been overdone on soaps in the past 10-15 years Of course, death in general has been overdone on soaps too, to the point when they kill off any adult character, my first reaction is, “When are they bringing him/her back.” But while an adult character’s death now generates little emotional response from me, a child character does stir up lots of feelings. Perhaps that’s why they’re killing off the child characters so much more now. I certainly was moved by the deaths of Delia on Y&R, Jake on GH, Johnny (Hope and Bo’s son) on Days, Cassie on Y&R, etc. And of course, the gold standard was the death of BJ on GH back 20 years ago.

    That said, little Gabriell’s death didn’t bother me nearly much as those others mentioned because I hadn’t invested as much time in the character. Sure, I care about Patrick and Sabrina, but the baby’s fate seemed ominous from the get go — being born 3 months prematurely. They handled the story well, very well, but I haven’t had a chance to get attached to this baby.

    Also Gabriell was not a legacy character. He wasn’t the offspring of two families who’ve been on the show for decades and decades like the above mentioned Delia, Jake, Johnny, etc. So, I don’t have as much of an emotional investment.

    Finally, this plotline wasn’t done as Emmy bait. The Delia, Jake, Johnny, etc. deaths were done mainly to rake in Emmy noms, but this one was done to facilitate the maternity leave of Teresa Castillo (Sabrina). Of sure, it may get some Emmy attention, but the plotline’s genesis was not in trying to impress Emmy voters.

    Call me cynical if you want, but that’s just my opinion. Thanks for weighing in with yours.

  4. patricia says:

    who cares there just fictional its not even real

  5. “Search for Tomorrow” also killed off a child back in the late ’50s – Jo’s young son, Duncan Eric, who ran out in front of a car. I’m also not a big fan of killing off babies/children on soap operas (I wish they hadn’t killed off Patrick and Sabrina’s baby). It’s just too sad to watch – and sometimes the writers regret their decision years later.

  6. On All My Children Donna Cortlandt’s baby boy died in a fire before Brooke’s daughter was killed by the drunk driver.

  7. Steve Stowell says:

    It’s really not a simple question to answer. When in the right storyteller’s hands, a child’s death can impact the entire canvas and have lasting repercussions like Laura on AMC or BJ on GH. I will admit I haven’t watched the network soaps regularly since last summer when AMC & OLTL returned via the web, so I don’t know how the more recent stories have been handled, but it seems to me from what I’ve read that killing children has become more of a stunt to raise the ratings for the short term, which I think is yet another contrivance that is slowly killing this medium along with back-from-the-dead stories and evil twins/lookalikes.

  8. I had just started watching soaps when Lisa’s son on ATWTs was killed I was really surprised. BJ goes without saying was a heart breaker, I think because BJ was a much loved character, and everyone involved brought their A game. . It actually made me cry, and when watched on YT,. made me cry again. Jake ? I felt for LIz but Jason got what he deserved he stole his brothers son. I don’t like to see children killed but I wouldn’t object to Spencer being put in a coma so he can stop acting or spouting grownup lines We had something special about Emma. GMAB It makes me gag. I was surprised about Tom and Brooks daughter, Laura. Gabe I haven’t watched, and I don’t care. he’s not really dead and it wasn’t even a real baby. It was a doll. Plus I made it a point where I would never watch scenes where Suebrina had to cry.Or try. Oh well no one cries over dead characters on soaps anymore They all end up coming back alive.

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