Movies/My Culture

“Me Before You” and the Problem with Assisted Suicide

WARNING: Due to the serious subject matter of the film “Me Before You” (euthanasia), and the fact that most people already know how the movie ends (euthanasia), combined with the fact that the film is based on a novel by the same name that came out in 2012, this entire movie review will be one big spoiler. Advance at your own risk.

This British film maintains the light air of a romantic comedy throughout, overlaid with tear-jerking moments and the sweetest violins. Unlike a Jodi Picoult story that explores controversial issues as serious dramas, “Me Before You” more or less accepts assisted suicide as a valid option and a part of life (irony intended).

Suicide, in fact, is portrayed as sexy and sweet. As sexy as a gorgeous, wealthy, young quadriplegic, Will (Sam Claflin from “Hunger Games“), and as sweet as his new, bubbly, Kimmy-Schmidt-like caretaker, Lou (Emilia Clarke from “Game of Thrones“). And it’s not just our main characters that are comely, the actual moment of Will’s demise is preceded by jokes, kisses, smiles and lots of sunshine pouring in the window — all set to swirling, swelling strings.

Lou finds out about Will’s plan to undergo euthanasia in Switzerland in only six months’ time. She and his mother put their heads together to try to get Will to enjoy life again, get out and do things as best he can in his motorized wheelchair. Will obliges, but more for Lou than for himself. However, he is thoroughly enjoying her company.

When Will finally tells Lou about Switzerland, she tells him she already knows. Will then begins to lay out his reasoning. He liked his old life. A lot. (He was also very athletic.) Is Will trying to say what is said of dementia patients in order to euthanize them? That he’s not really “himself” anymore?

Sorry. The “self” remains till the last breath — no matter what condition the mind or body is in. Will doesn’t mention his prognosis as part of his justification for ending his life, but Lou gets that information from others: Will’s main problem is his spinal cord which can’t be fixed. He’s on lots of medications and is weak and vulnerable to infections. He has recurring pneumonia. He is often in pain. In his nighttime dreams he is active once again, but wakes up screaming when he realizes he’s paralyzed.

In “Me Before You,” quality of life is more important than life itself. Will wants his old life back. He resists change (as horrible as the changes in his life are) and moving forward. But who can ever “have their old life back”? And for how long? In a few more decades, he will be elderly and unable to do all things he loves to do anyway.

A brief discussion about the morality of assisted suicide is put in the mouth of Lou’s cross-wearing, grace-at-meals-praying mother: “There are some choices we don’t get to make! It’s no different from murder! You can’t be a part of it,” she tells her daughter.

Lou is not sure if she did the right thing by refusing to go with Will to Switzerland to be with him when he dies as he had asked her. Lou’s Dad simply says: “We can’t change people.” (True enough.) Lou had tried so hard to change Will’s mind. When Lou asks in return: “Then what can we do?” Dad says: “Just love them.” Her Dad instead encourages her to join Will and his parents in Switzerland. (Lou was not “materially cooperating” in the suicide by helping Will get to Switzerland, she only agrees to “be there” for him, while still disagreeing with his choice.)

The title is curious. Who is “me”? Who is “you”? Although Lou begs Will not to go through with his lethal plan, promising to stay with him, Will tells her that his mind has been made up from the beginning and that he has never wavered, not even for her. He will not stay alive for her. She brought some joy into what he has determined to be the end of his life, and he did his part trying to bring her out of her shell and get her to dream big — but this eleventh hour fling was only in the context of a promise he made to his parents: he would give them only six more months. The sacrifice (even though Lou is a well-paid employee of Will’s mother) seems to be all on Lou’s part.

This does not seem to be a true, reciprocal love story. If he had stayed alive for her, it would have been. You can’t be in love with a ghost and share life with a ghost (all apologies to Patrick Swayze). Will also hints that because they won’t be able to have a married life with sex and children, she doesn’t know for a fact that she won’t have regret in the future for having stayed with him.

In the end, neither main character has a story arc. Neither character changes or is transformed. They just meet, share life for a few months, and that’s it. You know what a story with no story arcs is? Either really bad storytelling OR propaganda for a cause.

What is the point of this book/movie? Why was it created? To make euthanasia more palatable? “It’s his choice” is stated over and over again.

Yes, of course, suicide has always been a choice, an option. A very sad and tragic one, one that people choose only in utmost desperation, and one that humanity has always tried to talk and help its constituents out of. Will says: “I’m not the kind of man who can accept this.” (Who can really “accept” a tragedy such as quadriplegia?) And yet people do “accept” it all the time. Look at the brilliant and drastically compromised Stephen Hawking (who suffers from ALS) who presses on with humor and an indomitable will to live, still contributing to the world of science).

There is no mention of God as the master of life and death. No mention of going back to God at death. No mention of what dying naturally would be like (most likely he will diminish irreparably in just a few years and die naturally then anyway). No mention of redemptive suffering: the fact that suffering purifies us and can be offered up for others. No mention of the fact that we go on living till the last gun is fired. What if there are still important lessons for him to learn, indispensable bits of living still to be lived? Others who need to come in contact with him–whose lives he can grace? And of course, as believers, we would want to grow daily in our relationship with God as much as possible on this earth before we leave it.

“Me Before You” has to be classified as a pro-euthanasia film.

It’s like a sugar-coated poison pill. Our world is on a slippery slope to justifying suicide for just about any reason. What happened to helping each other live, not die? What happened to hope? Does this mean we shouldn’t stop people from jumping off ledges? After all, it’s their choice. “Hey buddy! Hold it right there! We respect your choice, and we don’t really care if you die or not, so just hold on and we’ll get you a physician….”

How can we be good Catholics in a culture of death?

What is a “culture of death”? It is a culture that has separated body (the physical) and soul (the spiritual). It is a culture that sees death as not only a valid solution, but a good solution. Not only a good solution but the best solution. Abortion is the “loving” thing to do. Euthanasia is “dignity.” War/violence is easily invoked.

We all know or know of someone who has committed suicide. Some were terminally ill and in excruciating pain. Some were mentally ill or at their wit’s end for whatever reason. Some were facing a desperate or dangerous situation or life. Some had no family or love or basic resources. Some were depressed or bullied teens.

Suicide was not the best solution–palliative care (to relieve the pain of terminal illness), proper psychiatric care and medication, better circumstances or a societal safety net would have been the best solution. But they are now in God’s mercy: God who alone sees our state of mind and reads our hearts. St. Therese of Lisieux (who suffered immensely at the end of her life) warned: never leave potent medication within reach of a suffering person.

The majority of failed suicide attempts are grateful to have NOT succeeded. They were temporarily in so much pain (of whatever kind) that they couldn’t see any other way out. These people go on to embrace life and help others who are feeling suicidal.

In today’s Western society, the young in particular seem to want to protect themselves from any kind of unpleasantness, discomfort, difference of opinion, negative experience. They don’t even want to hear certain words that might be “triggers.” They want “safe spaces” from “micro-agressions.” This is a mentality ripe for euthanasia. What will happen when real tragedy strikes? Illness or accidents? Won’t it be simply unbearable? I’m not saying that young people today haven’t suffered a lot already in their young lives — only that the best way to cope with suffering is not always avoidance. Check out C. S. Lewis’ weighty little book: “The Problem of Pain.”

Incidentally, Will didn’t take his own advice to Lou to “live boldly.” He quit. A young woman on Instagram told me she serves as an aid to quadriplegics (many of whom–unlike Will–are quadriplegics because of their “adrenaline rush” activities). And guess what? They’re still nuts. They still go sledding and do other even-more-dangerous-in-their-incapacitated-state sports. They still love life.

Life is really, really hard. We need to get used to that. Jesus said: “Take up your cross and follow me.” If we’re following Him? That means we’re never going to be alone. And we’re going somewhere. With Him. To be with Him forever in heaven. It won’t always be like this. “It gets better.” Way better. John Paul II said that when we suffer with Jesus — like Simon of Cyrene on the Way of the Cross — we are raised to a new dignity.

“Com-passion,” “suffering with” Jesus and others is true dignity, not euthanasia.


Editor’s Note: Check out this organization/hotline for suicide prevention: www.samaritanshope.org

About the Author

Sr. Helena Burns, FSP

I can wiggle my ears, but nobody can see because I wear a veil. When I was a kid, I would accidentally knock over the family Christmas tree every year. I'm a dual (not "duel") citizen: Americanadian. Being married to Jesus is beyond awesome except every time we fight, guess who's always wrong. You can follow me on Twitter @SrHelenaBurns.

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