The Simon Heng column

    Clint Eastwood’s latest film Million Dollar Baby has won not
    only numerous Oscars but also critical acclaim as one of this
    year’s best films. It concerns a working-class young woman who is
    attempting to break into the world of professional boxing, and,
    through a spinal injury, becomes tetraplegic. She is left to rot in
    a nursing home, and begs her friends to help her die – which one of
    them does.

    As a tetraplegic there are many ways in which I find this
    offensive. Firstly, it’s unrealistic. There’s no indication in the
    film that the woman is offered any form of rehabilitation.
    Secondly, the message is that death is better than disability.
    Finally, that unauthorised euthanasia is a heroic act.

    What concerns me most is that these assumptions have passed
    without criticism in the media. The implicit message is that these
    attitudes are not only acceptable, but also shared by the
    film-going public.

    There is a history of the film industry using disability to
    involve its audience – Rain Man, Forrest Gump, What Ever Happened
    To Baby Jane? and these may have had an impact on society’s
    attitude towards disability. Where these have concerned true
    stories (My Left Foot, Born On the 4th of July) they have usually
    had a positive effect. On the whole, however, disabled characters
    are objects of fun or pity. One of the most popular shows in the
    West End is a revival of Whose Life Is It Anyway?, with its
    (identical to Eastwood’s movie) theme of a tetraplegic wishing to
    commit suicide,

    I watched a news item last week about a soldier on trial for
    killing his disabled son. Apparently, he did this because he
    couldn’t bear the idea of his son having to lead a “difficult”
    life.

    When I put these stories together, I begin to worry about
    society’s attitudes towards people like me. I don’t expect people
    to understand my life, what I feel I contribute, and what I get out
    of it, without talking to me. On the other hand, I don’t expect
    people to think I would be better off dead just because I’m
    disabled.

     

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