Intersections

Assisted Suicide—A Quadriplegic’s Perspective

by: 
Joni Eareckson Tada

Culture is so easily influenced by the entertainment industry. This is why I am sounding an alarm about a very dangerous message in a film released earlier this summer. It’s simply titled Me Before You.

I went to see Me Before You the first week it was out. I was curious because the story is about a young man named Will who became paralyzed in a motorcycle accident. The filmmakers did a great job of conveying his emotional struggles in facing a life without use of his hands or legs. As you might expect, Will falls into suicidal despair. That is, until his mother hires Louisa, an upbeat young woman who sees it as her job to cheer him up. In time, they fall in love.

One part of the movie really gripped my emotions. Will gets dressed in a tuxedo, and Louisa in a bright red dress and they drive to a symphony concert. That night, when they drive back home, and she starts to get out of the car, Will stops her. From the passenger seat he says softly, “Wait next to me for a moment. I just took a beautiful woman in a red dress to a concert, and I want the moment to last.” At that point, tears were flowing down my face—I’ve been there; I know what that feeling is like. As a quadriplegic, I have experienced many happy moments like these. I call them ‘almost being on my feet’ moments, and they are priceless.

Yes, Me Before You pulls strongly at your emotions. But that’s not good in light of its ending. Despite having fallen in love with Louisa, Will nevertheless asks his parents to take him to Switzerland, where he checks into a suicide clinic to kill himself. What a tragic ending!

It’s especially tragic that some of Will’s family call his decision “courageous.” To me, a quadriplegic, that is revolting. Courage isn’t throwing in the towel and checking out of life because things are too hard; rather, courage is staying engaged in life and remaining in the battle when life is difficult. A courageous choice like that can have an even greater impact on culture—after all, “none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone” (Rom 14:7, NIV). Make no mistake: our choices have a powerful influence on others.

A Dangerous Message

I have nothing but disdain for the “you’re better off dead than disabled” message in Me Before You. It can’t help but have a negative impact on young, impressionable moviegoers who already have fundamental fears about disability. It can pull at their emotions, further weakening their convictions about who has the right to doctor-assisted death. Audiences may leave the theater saying, “Why shouldn’t a despairing quadriplegic have the right to kill himself?!”

Right now there are five states in the U.S. (California, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, and Montana) that have legalized assisted suicide for terminally ill people. Additionally, bills modeled on the California law have been submitted in 18 states and the District of Columbia. New York could be next to legalize assisted suicide. And New Jersey and Utah lawmakers intended to hold hearings this summer. All of these state bills and laws limit—or they at least propose to limit—assisted suicide for people with terminal illnesses only. But Me Before You pushes even that envelope, laying the case that assisted death should be extended to anyone who finds their medical condition intolerable. According to the movie, you don’t have to be terminally ill, just have a disability you don’t want to live with. After all, if terminally ill people have the right to end their lives, why not anyone who finds their life circumstances unbearable? That’s the law in Switzerland and Belgium.

The movie also communicates that there is no virtue in suffering. It feeds the sense of entitlement so prevalent in our country; that is, the notion that we are entitled to healthy lives of ease and comfort, and nothing less. That affliction is to be avoided at all costs. That nothing of any good could possibly come out of a serious disability, even if you are deeply in love.

As a quadriplegic who has been married for 34 years, I can say for certain that my husband Ken and I have a deep and satisfying relationship, mostly because of—not in spite of—my severe disability. It teaches us patience and self-sacrifice; endurance, respect, and joy, even when—and especially when—times are hard. The Bible says God’s power shows up best in weakness, so any marriage that has a disability can potentially be a powerful blessing to both spouses (2 Cor 12:9).

Regardless of whether or not in the context of marriage, the taking of one’s own life or enabling a loved one with a disability to do so is never the answer. All life is created in the image of God and worth our greatest efforts to preserve and protect, and He alone is the one who should order the length of our days.

An Opportunity

Having said this, please do see the movie! It provides a timely opportunity for you to share your convictions about life worth living. If you are a pastor, reference the movie in your sermons. Too many Christians are buying into the premise that life isn’t worth living if it involves awful suffering. This is a prime opportunity to not only share how films glamorize death and gloss over the facts, but this is a chance to raise culturally-sensitive issues before a congregation, helping them understand a biblical worldview on living and dying with suffering.

Many young people have called Me Before You the best romantic film of the summer. Well, this is your chance to engage them in conversation, sharing your beliefs over a cup of coffee at Starbucks, in a college cafeteria, or over your backyard fence. Culture can only be influenced and shaped by our convictions when we voice our opinions . . .  when we argue a case persuasively . . . when we speak, write, and vote our principles.

Tell your friends that life with quadriplegia is supremely preferable over 3 grams of Phenobarbital in the veins. Yes, there is virtue to be found in suffering. Most of all, there is love.

Editor’s Note: This piece was first published at the True Woman blog. We are grateful to Joni Eareckson Tada for submitting it to Intersections as well.

 

Joni Eareckson Tada

Joni Eareckson Tada

Joni Eareckson Tada, the founder and Chief Executive of Joni and Friends International Disability Center, is an international advocate for people with disabilities. She founded Joni and Friends in 1979 to provide Christ-centered programs to special-needs families, as well as training to churches. Joni and Friends serves thousands of special-needs families through Family Retreat, and has delivered over 100,000 wheelchairs and Bibles to needy disabled persons in developing nations. Joni’s lifelong passion is to bring the Gospel to the world’s one billion people with disabilities. She and her husband Ken were married in 1982 and reside in Calabasas, California. You can learn more about Joni’s ministry at www.joniandfriends.org.