Me Before You, a recently released film adaptation of a book by the same name, is garnering attention for promoting the notion that disabilities so greatly encumber life that physician-assisted suicide is a brave and reasonable solution to be celebrated.
The story centers around Will, a young man from a wealthy family who had been injured in a motorcycle accident, and his caregiver Louisa, whose lack of ambition and humble lifestyle prevented her from experiencing all that life had to offer.
Though the two eventually fell in love, Will, who had attempted suicide months before, decided that life as a quadriplegic was not worth living. In the movie, he receives a lethal dose of medication from a Swedish suicide clinic and leaves Louisa an inheritance to pursue her dreams.
Disability rights advocates believe that the movie’s ending, which celebrates the death of Will so that Lou might boldly live life with an inheritance, implies that caring for Will would have been too great a burden on Louisa to make her life worthwhile.
“We are not ‘burdens’ whose best option is to commit suicide,” said John Kelly, regional director of Not Dead Yet, a national organization that opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia. “No one’s suicide should be treated as noble and inspirational. Our suicides should be viewed as tragedies like anyone else’s.”
Responding to criticism, Thea Sharrock, the film’s director, said, “This is a brave ending. It’s too easy to do it the other way. But this way… this is the more interesting way.” The movie, according to Sharrock, is “about how important the right to choose is.”
Thankfully, under Washington law, Will would have been unable to pursue the doctor-assisted suicide that he received in the film. Though Washington voters decided in favor of the Washington Death with Dignity Act (Initiative 1000) in 2008, the law requires that those seeking to end their life must be terminally ill patients with less than six months to live.
That a major Hollywood film is celebrating the suicide of a disabled man speaks loudly about the deteriorating moral condition of American culture. Generations ago, political philosophers like John Locke and William Blackstone, both of whom greatly influenced the philosophical ideas of the American founding, argued that suicide violated natural law and should therefore be illegal.
In his Second Treatise on Government, John Locke wrote,
“We are all the property of him who made us, and he made us to last as long as he chooses, not as long as we choose.”
Regarding the unnatural and illegal nature of suicide, William Blackstone wrote in his legal commentaries,
“[N]o man has a power to destroy life, but by commission from God, the author of it: and, as the suicide is guilty of a double offense; one spiritual, in invading the prerogative of the Almighty, and rushing into his immediate presence uncalled for; the other temporal, against the king, who has an interest in the preservation of all his subjects; the law has therefore ranked this among the highest, crimes, making it a peculiar species of felony, a felony committed on oneself.”
Until the last few decades, most states, influenced by the philosophy of Locke and Blackstone, classified the act of suicide as a felony.
How have things changed since then. By the end of this year, five states (Washington, Oregon, Montana, California, and Vermont) will allow some form of doctor-assisted suicide. According to Washington state records, in 2014 there were 176 “participants” who received medication from doctors to end their lives under the authority of the Washington Death with Dignity Act.
Contrary to what the Me Before You director says, suicide is anything but “brave.” Every single person, regardless of the disabilities and challenges they face, has inherent value and is created in the image of their Creator. Suicide, even when assisted by doctors, robs society of the incredible potential for good offered by each of its victims.
The fictional book from which the film takes its story was written by English author Jojo Moyes. The movie, which was released to theaters on June 3, is produced and distributed by Hollywood production giants MGM and Warner Brothers.