The trailer pretty much gives away the entire plot, but if you haven’t seen/read it, this post gives away spoilers.
I went to see Me Before You with every intention of hating it. The criticisms I’ve read about its pro-euthanasia message are valid and worth reading. I haven’t yet read the book, so my opinion is two-dimensional at best.
But honestly? What I saw did not communicate “All physically disabled people should kill themselves because their lives are not as meaningful as those of able-bodied people.” What I saw was a story of one man’s decision to end his life, for reasons that the criticisms I read neglected to mention.
The critics gave me the impression that Will Traynor was healthy in every way except that his legs didn’t work. Had that been the case, and he chose euthanasia anyway, I would have been angry. But the reviews didn’t mention the other complications from his motorcycle accident: being paralyzed from the neck down, the bouts of pneumonia from a weakened immune system, the dangerous roller coaster of body temperature, the constant physical pain and, most pertinent of all, the prognosis of the doctors that Will’s condition would kill him sooner rather than later. This, I’m assuming, is not the prognosis of most people who live the majority of their lives in wheelchairs.
I don’t condone or celebrate Will’s decision as “brave” (a sticky adjective that leaves a bad taste in my mouth). But I understand it. It’s a decision my father considered, as the cancer metastasized and reduced his life to mere existence, not real living. In the end, euthanasia was not the course he chose, but in the final weeks he remained alive he was not the father I knew. He was a shell of the person who raised me. If there is anything remotely positive to glean from euthanasia in this circumstance, it’s that my father and the rest of my family would have been spared the suffering of having to watch as he literally wasted away.
That being said, I understand why the decision remains controversial. I don’t think I could ever do it. It will likely always make me uneasy, and should never be the go-to solution without careful consideration of prognoses given by medical experts. It is, ultimately, a choice one makes between his family, his doctors, and God.
There was a time when this issue was black and white for me. As a self-described pro-lifer, the idea of ending a life by unnatural means abhorred me. But I don’t have the luxury of certainty anymore, after what I’ve seen. I wager that many people who consider euthanasia no different than cold-blooded murder have never been in a situation like the one I had during the summer of 2014. Everything looks simple from the outside looking in, when real feelings and real suffering are hypothetical, not a daily reality.
The reality is that not all medical conditions are manageable. The slippery slope argument “What about depressed people who think they’re better off dead?” doesn’t hold water, since depression is a manageable illness. You can only manage cancer, among other life-threatening conditions, for so long. That euthanasia should only be considered for life-threatening situations is the only thing I’m certain about. As a chronic sufferer of depression, I have resources that enable me to keep living my life. My father didn’t. Neither, it seems, did Will Traynor.
Still, I raged with Louisa Clark when she accused Will of being selfish – she did make him happy. She did give him hope. She tried so hard, and took his final decision as a personal failure on her part. It’s a moral mess of a story in that the feelings of the sufferer and those who love him are all valid, and in the end I really didn’t know how to feel about the whole thing. Though I did feel annoyed that I fell right into the trap of “the most romantic tear-jerker of the year!” and tried to hide my sniffle-snorts as my friend, who came prepared, kept offering me a box of Kleenex.
I’m not endorsing or condemning euthanasia, but I am saying that the issue is more complex from the inside looking out, rather than the other way around. It’s an issue that deserves empathy and compassion even if one believes it’s morally wrong. If it’s not your life, not your direct experience, you don’t know. You can never know.
As for Me Before You, it provided inspiration for a blog post, so I guess it wasn’t all bad, but it’s definitely far from perfect. Its biggest flaw is continuing the Hollywood trend of using illness to drive a romantic plot (it’s been rightly called ‘sick-lit’), along with other inconsistencies with real life – how many quadriplegics can afford private jets and exotic vacations? Individualized care from multiple care-givers? A more realistic story would have been nice, but of course that never would have been made into a movie. I’d much rather read or watch a story about the Bethany Hamiltons of the world who survive tragic accidents and eventually get back on their surf boards (literal or figurative ones).