Me Before You, Assisted Suicide, Being a Cripple (Long, LONG Post)

I wrote a blog post on the movie/book Me Before You, recently.  You don't have to read the post, but it may give you a place to start.
I'm thirty-one, disabled, living with chronic pain, and I don't think suicide will damn you.  I believe, sometimes, people have more to deal with than they can conceivably handle and think suicide is the end to whatever problem haunts them.

But, honestly, Me Before You isn't about one person's right to die.  "But all they're talking about is one guy, not all disabled people, you're out of your mind!" champions of this movie shout whenever anyone brings up the problematic messages.

On the outside, it may appear it is just about one guy.  I mean, he's the only character who is suicidal.  The heroine loves him and wants him to live.
But things are more complex.

Everyone around Will says they couldn't cope with being a quadriplegic, that they would want to kill themselves, too.  No other disabled person really comes into the picture at all, no other counterpoint to show life can be lived well and full except vague references to it when the heroine seeks help online.  Why not show someone else living it up, doing well, if what the movie/book cared about was accuracy, as the author claims?

And, listen to me on this:  Disabled people hear this kind of stuff ALL THE TIME.  I've been told by family members they would rather be dead than in my dingy sneakers.  I've had people tell me I should kill myself because I'm a burden (on the taxpayer, on my family).
A big part of the problem is that Jojo Moyes (the author) is feeding the masses a reinforced stereotype, "a dead cripple is a good cripple".  Or the other great standby, "burden".  The only one she didn't hit was "inspirational gimp" and, since he thought his life was worthless, he wasn't going to aspire to that one, anyway.

Don't believe me about stereotypes?  Go look at movies and books about disabled people.  I'll wait.  If you can't come up with more than a handful that don't fall into one of three categories, I'll eat my shoe (with the exception being "wounded warrior romance" where the hero is an injured veteran).

"Man/woman with disability doesn't want to live anymore."
"Parents caring for a disabled child can't scrape money together for (an operation, wheelchair, etc.)."
"Look at Maggie, she climbed Mount Everest without arms!"
Outside of the inspirational stuff, lives of disabled people in media exist to influence the lives of the able-bodied.  We are the difficulty (caring for the disabled son).  We are the plot device instead of another character and, while I can't deny everyone influences everyone else, we are tied to roles we can't escape.

And people often feel the way media tells them to.  People often, at least subconsciously, will pick up what they see as fact, especially if a few images are the ONLY images they see.  If there were a bunch of different disabled people in media, doing a ton of different stuff (just like you able-bodied people), one movie wouldn't be causing the ire it is.  But, instead, we're Million Dollar Babies on the respirator, begging for someone to end our "non-life".
Assisted suicide, I believe, is a viable option for some people (if they are of sound mind, not facing undue pressure for a decision, and so on).  But, there are problems with it, especially when it comes to disability.  In some places, medications for assisted suicide are cheaper (and easier to obtain) than medicines for pain.  If you need pain medication, you're considered an addict waiting to happen.  If you want to commit suicide, that's fine!  Let's just all ignore that chronic pain can make someone WANT to die.

Therapy (physical, occupational, psychological) is often not covered under health plans and many disabled people would benefit from it.  Some desperately need them and cannot afford them on their own.

Wheelchairs cost as much as a new car.  Modifications for homes are often outrageous.  Not every disabled person has a plan that covers something as simple as a lift to get out of bed.

We often can't get into buildings, even though there are laws stating access MUST be there for disabled people.  How many of us have the money and energy to fight a business for compliance?  In my town, the sidewalks are often not cleared of snow in the winter.  If I don't take transportation EVERYWHERE, I'm screwed.  Small towns also don't have other little things like, oh, indicators at stoplights for the visually impaired.

And, transportation!  An accessible vehicle costs as much as a house.  Most smaller towns have limited-to-no transit for disabled people.  Transportation that is provided is often unreliable and old, leaving us a choice between not going out and risking injury.  There are the specialty van services (which cost $30 minimum, even if I just have to go two blocks).

Media, as I have mentioned is also a problem.  There are no representations of people like us DOING things.  Yes, Jojo Moyers, we have sex.  Even the quadriplegics.  We're also parents, teachers, lawyers, criminals... everything able-bodied people are!

People, unfortunately, are also a difficulty when you're disabled.  They glare, ask you inappropriate things (can you have sex, crippled lady?), pray over you like Jesus is going to come and heal you right then for their enjoyment, and other (more unpleasant) things.  People assume you do nothing when you're disabled, they patronize, pity, fear, or just hate you.  (I'm NOT saying everyone is like this, but at least half have some variant of emotion or thought going on towards you that wouldn't if you weren't disabled.)
Our families get light sentences for killing us because we're just SO exhausting to take care of!  That poor mother, toiling without help.  Of course, she couldn't take it!  We're not seen as fully human so killing us is often just not that big of a deal.  Just get the "burden" off their backs.

What do these things have to do with assisted suicide and disability?  A hell of a lot!
Without accessibility fully-integrated in our groups and communities, without access to mobility aides, in-home healthcare, therapy, appropriate pain management, and so on, the things we NEED to have for a full life, we're going to feel like we don't have a full life.  If other people tell us they'd rather die than be in our situation, it isn't going to perk us up.
And, before anyone says I'm arguing for special rights:  I don't think being able to go out shopping, living in my own place, being as pain free as possible, and having people NOT tell me to kill myself is too much to ask.  Don't you live at home?  Go shopping?  See a representation of yourself in a movie where you're NOT suicidal?

If society treated the disabled the same way they treated the able-bodied and made sure we had the same opportunities, if attitudes and access were equal... then assisted suicide would be a more fair choice.  But society isn't there, may never be there.  So... yeah...

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read this book, but I've been hearing about it on social media, especially Steven Spohn's article on a similar theme to yours. Everything I hear concerns me though. Writing often reveals more about your subconscious thoughts than is comfortable and it sounds like this writer learned that she buys into the whole "noble sacrifice" is better than "being a burden" schtick. We can do better than that.

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act