From Ima Notkidding’s Powerful Testimony in Support of California’s Beginning of Life Option Act:
“She never wanted to live like that.“
“I’ll never forget what one of her doctors from one of those really horrible countries said to my sister, ‘It’s like you want what the women in my country already have, this ‘medical care’ that isn’t really medical care at all. How very strange.’ It IS really strange. We just want to not have what a lot of women in way poorer nations already don’t have and here we have to fight to not have it! …Fortunately, Choices & Compassion has been there for me and together we got my representative, Joe King, to sponsor a bill here in California that gives pregnant women the right to prescriptions that will hasten their births. To use when WE know it’s time. Just the knowledge that I’ve got the drugs should I want them gives me incredible peace of mind. And just the knowledge that he has no liability, no matter the outcome of my using his prescription to hasten my birth which no medical provider was required to attend, gives my doctor even more peace of mind.”
As of today, April 1, 2017, Tales From the Crip is proud to announce its full opposition to opposition to so-called “physician-assisted birth” that gives a woman who is suffering from pregnancy the right to birth naturally and when she is ready.
- We believe that physicians should be legally permitted to prescribe medication that will be self-administered to induce labor when a woman has been diagnosed as being within 6 months of birthing.
- We feel SUPER about a law that does not state that a prescribing doctor — or any medical personnel — attend a woman who has self-administered their prescribed drug to hasten birth.
- We feel super-DUPER about a law that shields prescribing physicians from…complicated outcomes of such births by lowering the acceptable practice standard to the “good faith” level. For just this one area of care.
I represented DREDF in this conversation but it’s stirred up a big case of the feels about “choice” and being a liberal woman writer with a congenital disability, and the context this establishes for storytelling, and resisting and persisting. I continue, after 30 years of adult activism, to feel like I have an early shift of ableism — prepping the world to accept that I exist — while my nondisabled fellow human resisters and persisters get to sleep in. And if I weren’t white, conventionally educated, cis gendered, unthreateningly queer, and had all sorts of middle-class, married advantages, I’d probably never sleep at all. Image courtesy of the Disability Visibility Project.
Step 1: I Exist!
As many people who know me know — all too well — I’ve been writing a novel* for the past 400 years or so. The novel, The Cure for Gretchen Lowe, is the exploration of a what-if premise: What if a congenitally disabled woman were offered an experimental therapy that would cure her? The cure itself, Genetic Reparative Therapy (GRT), was never the point of the story because biomedical research, real or invented, never seemed like the most interesting part of the story. What I’ve been stuck on, like an oyster (or barnacle), since the idea first irritated my imagination was how I saw that my character’s situation began as a will-she-or-won’t-she question. From what I’ve observed in 50+ years of congenitally disabled life, that question isn’t typically a question to The Average Reader. “Well, of course a person like that would want GRT!”
I’ve considered that point of view quite a bit — 400 years allows for that — and much more seriously than I make it sound here. But that assumption also irritated me mightily: As a lifelong like-that-ter, I’ve run up against a lot of nonconsensual of-coursing when it comes to my bioethical choices. Simply opening my story — which I refer to as being “CripLit” — with a genuine choice, not a pro forma one, felt like I wrote in letters across the sky: I EXIST.
September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. But for a disabled person like me, it’s just not my day.
What would be a “threat of self-harm” for you, is a “personal choice” for me.
What calls for an intervention for you, calls for a pre-suicide party for me.
Your movie is It’s a Wonderful Life. My movie is It’s a Wonderful Death.
When it comes to people like me, suicide is rapidly becoming normalized. Or more exactly, suicide is being erased through re-branding. “It’s not ‘suicide’! It’s ‘ending your life on your own terms’!”
5. Why is suicide being presented as a solution, rather than a problem, when the people involved have disabilities?
September is Suicide Awareness Month and September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. I’m writing this because media coverage over the past year alone seems to warrant an explicit reminder that:
- We don’t lack awareness of people with disabilities committing suicide; we do allow vulnerable people to feel shame over chronic pain and depression.
- Our suicides deserve prevention, not encouragement and cultural misrepresentation, as in films such as Me Before You.
What’s the context beyond the medical? What are the underlying attitudes guiding how the media’s coverage of people with disabilities who have committed suicide or who are planning to do so?
A few weeks ago, Alice Wong asked me, a fellow person living with a progressive neuromuscular disease (NMD), how I would respond to someone with an NMD who was saying they wanted to commit suicide. This was my answer.
Do people living with disabilities also experience depression? Yes. Anyone can have depression and you are no different in deserving treatment and relief for it. Thinking that you alone can help yourself with your depression through suicide is a tragic form of “overcoming.”
If finding the right treatment for your depression proves difficult, it’s not proof that your disability makes you different from other people.
It’s not proof that, for you, suicide is a rational choice. No. It’s proof that depression is difficult to treat for vast numbers of people. Like you.
It’s free and confidential to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline anytime. You are not a medical prognosis or a checklist of functional abilities. You’re a person. Who is in terrible pain now and deserves relief.
If you’re in crisis:
The only thing “Me Before You” normalizes is a deadly double standard when it comes to suicide prevention and people with disabilities.
People in local cross-disability communities in association with Not Dead Yet(www.notdeadyet.org) are staging a protest at the Berkeley Shattuck Cinemas on Thursday, June 2, 2016, from 6:15PM-7:15PM PT. The purpose of this peaceful demonstration is to oppose the film’s ableist message that people with disabilities are better off dead, and that we are a burden to others. Protesters are organizing across the United States using hashtags such as #MeBeforeEuthanasia, #MeBeforeAbleism, and the film’s unintentionally ironic #LiveBoldly.
“Me Before You” is the latest Hollywood film to grossly misrepresent the lived experience of the majority of disabled people. In the film, a young, white, and wealthy man becomes disabled and falls in love with his “carer,” a young woman who has been hired by his family to cure his suicidal depression with romance.
Despite her opposition, however, the hero does the “honorable” thing by killing himself in Switzerland with the assistance of the pro-euthanasia organization Dignitas – leaving his fortune to her so she can move on without the “burden” of a disabled partner. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, “Me Before You” is little more than a disability snuff film, giving audiences the message that if you’re a disabled person, you’re better off dead.
The narrative of “Me Before You” and the leaders of the team who brought it to the screen are perpetuating stereotypes that people with disabilities are still fighting against.
Three of the key damaging messages “Me Before You” advances are:
Disability is ugly. Thea Harrock, the film’s director, has said publicly that she made a calculated decision to not include visuals of the main character, a young, wealthy, white man who has sustained a spinal cord injury, using tools for daily living, such as lifts or hoists because they would make audiences “uncomfortable.”
Disability = “It doesn’t get better.” “Me Before You” denies the fluid nature of living with a disability, in which both levels of disability and adjustment change over time. Conflating one stage on a continuum of living – early post-trauma – with the entire lived experience is an error that a character might understandably make but it is inexcusable for the film to make the same mistake. Imagine if we told young people in the LGBT communities who are traumatized and depressed because of internalized stigma and a world full of homophobic barriers that suicide was a rational response.
Mental health services are not for people with disabilities. In a time when mental health services are undercut by radical losses in funding, “Me Before You” helps argue that they are unnecessary – and useless – interventions for people with disabilities. The conceit that a sexless romance with a pretty girl will in any way address the suicidal depression of a young man who has sustained a life-altering spinal cord injury is as ludicrous as it is harmful.
“Me Before You” insults audiences by presuming that they cannot handle the realities of disability. By casting an actor who does not have a visible disability, by reducing the complex emotions that come with transitioning to life as a disabled person to unimaginative clichés, and by removing all evidence of the economic and social barriers that people with disabilities battle, the film kills any potential for authentic drama. The director claims the goal of “normalizing” disability without any awareness that “normal” is a freighted concept to people with disabilities. The only thing “Me Before You’ normalizes is a deadly double standard when it comes to suicide prevention and people with disabilities.