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”

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


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