Emily M. DeArdo

writer

Sugarcoating Suicide: Me Before You (Or: Why you should not read this book or see this movie)

life issues, transplantEmily DeArdo27 Comments

I get really, really tired of defending my existence.

If it isn't people telling me that my transplant was immoral, it's people who think that assisted suicide for disabled people is a good idea, and a sign of love. 

Yes. Because, you know, nothing says I love you like KILLING YOU. 

Let's look at the cognitive dissonance, here: When someone--say, Robin Williams--commits suicide, social media is flooded with messages like, "suicide isn't the answer", "please get help-- don't be afraid of getting it", "I wish people knew that they could talk to me if they're ever feeling like this." Etcetera. You all know how this goes. People are sad, as they should be. People continually say that suicide is NOT a good option. And it's not. 

But: when it's a disabled person who kills himself, oh, well, that's love

And that's exactly what happens in the new movie Me Before You, based on the novel of the same name by JoJo Moyes. In it, a woman falls in love with a quadriplegic man she's taking care of--but, oh, he wants to kill himself. Because, you know, life in a wheelchair isn't worth living. And if she REALLY loved him, she'd go with him to Switzerland and be there when he kills himself. Because that's love: supporting you in all your bad choices! 

No. You know what love is? Love is what Mary Lenaburg and her family did for her daughter, Courtney. Love is what Kelly Mantoan and countless other parents do every day for their kids who need their help. Love is my mom washing my hair when I'm nineteen years old and her back hurts, or my dad staying up during countless ER runs with me, or my siblings learning how to reconstitute and push IV drugs. THAT is love. 

My life isn't perfect. Show me someone who says his life is perfect, and I'll say that this person is a liar. Did it suck, being twenty-three years old and not being able to brush my teeth without sitting down after? Does it suck now, when I have to ask people to repeat things because I don't always understand them, or when my CI malfunctions? Yeah. But I would never, ever say that that was worth being dead. Obviously, I like my life just fine, since I've been to the edge of death and come back from it five times. I must think that something is worth living for. 

When we start sugarcoating assisted suicide--like in The Sea Inside, Million Dollar Baby, and The English Patient--we are trying to make it morally acceptable. We're trying to tell people that suffering is bad and we should avoid it at all costs, even by killing people who are suffering. Guys. That's not love. That's not living boldly, as the movie's tagline execrably proclaims. 

Living boldly is living the way my friend Sage does, while she waits for a lung transplant.  It's what Andi's kids do every day, whether they're running crazily at a T-ball game or singing in show choir. Living boldly is embracing life in all its highs and lows and living anyway.  

I've had people tell me that they would've aborted me, if they'd been my mom. 

To my face, people. 

* * * 

In The Giver, a dystopian novel by Lois Lowry, Jonah, the main character, discovers that what everyone calls "release" is actually euthanasia. In his community, old people are killed, people who break the rules three times are killed, even one of a set of twins is killed. Babies that don't sleep through the night when they're a year old are killed. Why? Because they are inconvenient. Because they make life difficult for the community. Jonah can't live in a system like that, and runs away with Gabriel, a baby that is slated for "release." He risks his own life to save the baby's--because if you try to escape from the community and are caught, you are "released." 

The community's highest value is ease of life. No one experiences pain. No one, actually, experiences any emotions. People take a pill every day so that they don't have emotions. Parents don't have children--they are "given" children, who are born via artificial insemination. When Jonas asks his parents if they love him, they laugh at him and say it's a meaningless word. And thus, the community medicates away their humanity--and kills what is inconvenient. 

Yeah, it's a book--but are we that far off from that? Where do we stop? 

The abortion rate for Down Syndrome kids in the U.S. is 67% In Europe, it's 92%. We are killing babies because they are imperfect. Because they are inconvenient.  This Atlantic headline pretty much says it all--why on EARTH would you keep an imperfect baby? 

People sue for "wrongful birth"--saying that they wish their babies had never been born. Not all cases of CF are detectable in utero, because there are thousands of possible mutations. So if a kid with CF is born, and his parents don't like it, they sue. They can pretty it up all they want and say they need the money for the kid's care--but it's not about money. It's about having a kid who isn't perfect, and someone needs to pay for that. Someone made "a mistake."

Jesus had something to say about this: 

 

You know who made the "mistake", here? It was God. And no, it's not a mistake. God did all this for a purpose, and for a reason. My crazy genetic code exists to bring Glory to God. That's why I'm here.  

Suicide is not an answer for anyone, at any time. It's not romantic and it's not brave. In the case of assisted suicide, it's reprehensible. 

Life has value beyond its utility. We are not cogs in a machine. We are human beings created in the image and likeness of God. And to purposefully commit suicide is not brave. It's cowardly. It flies in the face of bravery. 

I'm not a hero. I'm not a saint. I screw up. But the answer to challenges isn't to give up. The answer is to live the best you can, in the circumstances you are in. Love is helping people find a way to live--not by helping them die.