LOS ANGELES (ChurchMilitant.com) - A new film is promoting assisted suicide as an act of love.
"Me Before You," which opened this weekend to mixed reviews, follows a young man paralyzed from the neck down in a motorcycle accident and his young female caregiver, who falls in love with him; the story narrates the last six months of the man's life before he intends to kill himself via Dignitas, the Swiss-based assisted suicide organization. It is revealed toward the beginning of the book the young man promised his mother he would live half a year longer before committing suicide, with his mother hoping six more months will give him the time to realize life is worth living.
The film's eventual assisted suicide is portrayed as an act of love toward his caregiver and parents, on whom the young man does not want to be a burden.
Pro-life organizations are lambasting the film for advocating the idea that death is better than living with a disability. "'Me Before You' literally romanticizes a death wish," claims Tom Shakely, executive director of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network. "And it romanticizes Dignitas, a Swiss death clinic that, if it were offering its lethal drugs to prison inmates, would be universally condemned for its lack of a hopeful approach to remediate personal challenge and suffering."
"The film asks and answers its own question in the affirmative: Wouldn't life be better if you were dead?" Shakely notes, in an interview with the Daily Signal. He continues,
This is fatalism as raw material, and if we let romanticism about a foreign death clinic influence our notion of human rights, we'll have created a much darker world than the one we were born into. Does it feel right to treat suicide as medical care?
The film is based off the 2012 bestseller of the same name by English author Jojo Moyes who, according to the New England regional director of Not Dead Yet, a disability rights group, has admitted "she knows nothing about quadriplegics."
"[Moyes'] ignorance is allowed to promote the idea that people like me are better off dead," Kelly, who himself suffers from a debilitating spinal cord injury, stated in a press release. "We are not 'burdens' whose best option is to commit suicide. No one's suicide should be treated noble and inspirational. We reject this discrimination. Our suicides should be viewed as tragedies like anyone else's."
Syracuse University professor William Peace, in an article titled "A Second Class Existence: Me Before You Gets It All Wrong," accused both the film and book of perpetuating a false idea that all quadriplegic individuals who choose to live are "bitter, angry people who lash out at all the people foolish enough to engage them."
"Even when a quadriplegic like Will has it all — he is rich beyond belief, lives a life of luxury and can do pretty much whatever he wants — still chooses to die," Peace wrote, speaking of the book and film's main character. "Out of the goodness of his soul he will not allow himself to ruin [his caretaker's] life hence after his death he wills her his money. Only Hollywood could come up with such a story line that is so grossly convoluted and devoid of reality."
"Media has such a strong influential voice on the perceptions of our society and this movie seems to communicate that people with disabilities are a burden," argues the president of Changing the Face of Beauty, an association seeking to assist those with disabilities. "I would definitely rather see more positive examples of the disability community in entertainment."
"Me Before You" clinched the third spot at the box office this weekend, despite mixed reviews from critics.
Four states within the United States — Oregon, Montana, Vermont and Washington — currently allow doctors to assist individuals in the act of committing suicide; California is slated to join them on June 9 when the state's End of Life Option Act will take effect.
In the United States, the controversy of assisted suicide among young people with disabilities made headlines in 2014 when 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, who was diagnosed with brain cancer a little over a year after getting married, announced she intended to end her life "when the time seemed right." The months leading up to Maynard's scheduled suicide were a media frenzy, as pro-death organizations applauded Maynard's decision and pro-life groups pleaded with her to not end her life. Maynard ended her life in Oregon in November 2014, stating in a final Facebook post she chose "to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me ... but would have taken so much more."