Suicide is an epidemic in our society. Every month, on the news, there are stories about people who, feeling their lives are worthless, have taken their lives. Many of us have been personally affected by the tragedy of suicide. We all agree that suicide is a horrible and tragic thing. Unless you’re living with a disability, it seems.
Me Before You, starring Emilia Clarke and Sam Claffin and based on the book by the same name by Jojo Moyes, came out last weekend. At the beginning of the movie, Will Traynor, a young man left paralyzed from an accident two years earlier, is depressed and attempts suicide. When that fails, his mother agrees to support his plan of physician-assisted suicide, but only if he waits six months, hoping he will ultimately decide his life is worth living. As the movie continues, his family hires a young woman named Louise “Lou” Clark to care for him, and the two fall in love. Will is enjoying his time with Lou, but, when the six months are up, he still wants assisted suicide and goes to Switzerland to end his life. As the movie concludes, a rosy picture of his suicide is painted, casting the impression that Lou’s life is improved by Will’s death through the money he left her. According to the movie, the tragedy of the story was not in his suicide, but rather in his disability, and that the only path to freedom for all the characters was in his death.
Suicide is a tragedy whenever it happens. However, the idea that living with a disability is worse than being dead is deeply ingrained in our society. As such, suicide can actually be encouraged for those living with disabilities both implicitly or explicitly. Similarly, abortion is encouraged for unborn babies with “fetal abnormalities”—a fancy medical term for disabilities. We need to see through this prejudice at all stages of life and recognize that all lives are valuable. Unfortunately, movies like Me Before You only reinforce the false and discriminatory notion that people living with disabilities cannot have a fulfilling life and are, therefore, better off dead.