A Mom's Protest of Me Before You: #BetterDeadThanDisabled

By Cindy Barnes Kolbe
The author, Cindy with her daughter, Beth
Please note: This piece originally appeared on TheMighty.com, a platform for people with disabilities, diseases and mental illnesses to share their stories. We are reprinting with their permission.
A disturbing hashtag is circulating on Twitter: #BetterDeadThanDisabled. A closer look
 identifies the tag as a protest of the Me Before You movie that opens 
June 3. It is based on the fiction book by JoJo Moyes with the same title. The
 main characters are Lou, a young woman who can’t believe that she is 
falling for a man in a wheelchair, and Will, the other half of the love 
connection. He decides to end his life when a spinal cord injury leaves him 
quadriplegic, with all four limbs impaired.             

The disability community is diverse, yet it appears 
to be united in the condemnation of Me Before You on social media. I
 hate the book, too, but for more than the obvious reason. Not only because 
it portrays a life with quadriplegia as tragic—though my youngest daughter is a
 quad and one of the happiest people I know. Not because of assisted
 suicide—because I support the option in cases of prolonged, unbearable pain.
 Here’s my biggest problem with Me Before You: Will is not in unrelenting
 agony. On the contrary, he falls in love and is loved in return. Outside of
 bestselling books and Hollywood movies, real people with strong, positive
 connections rarely choose to die, quadriplegic or not.
“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”  Viktor
 Frankl wrote this passage in Man’s Search for Meaning. He
 describes prisoners in Nazi concentration camps who found a sense of purpose through
 selfless acts to lighten someone else’s load, despite brutal conditions. However, the opposite is also true. The same sense of purpose can elude us in the best
 of times. Regardless, connections always matter.  

Newly-injured quads and their families have extensive resources available, from top rehab centers to peer mentors from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. From local chapters of United Spinal to helpful websites including AbleThrive, Facing

MeBeforeYou implies that quadriplegia is the
“worst” disability, a dead end for the helpless and hopeless. Negative 
stereotypes add to the reasons why suicide is one of the top three causes of death
 for quads. Society and the media de-value
 and dismiss disability with pathetically low expectations. At the same time, the movie publicity for Me Before You proclaims #LiveBoldly, a sad irony for a story about suicide. Millions of people will see a movie that ends with #BetterDeadThanDisabled. 

It is impossible to make accurate assumptions about an individual with a disability. When my daughter was first injured, I observed other patients and privately debated the pros and cons of a stroke to a spinal cord
 injury, paralysis to a missing limb, a brain injury to blindness. It seemed important to me that others knew Beth had a “severe” disability—whatever that means. Not any more.
Without negating real challenges, I believe that positive connections matter more than limitations.
 Life is a gift, not a tragedy. I choose to support media that features successful
and happy quads, because they are everywhere—except in a starring role in Me Before You.

Cindy’s blog is at www.strugglingwithserendipity.com

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