‘Me Before You’ Reveals a Selfish Bias Against Disabled People

The highly anticipated movie version of the bestselling book Me Before You opens nationwide next weekend. Excited fans already have their tissues ready for this tearjerker about the love story between newly “wheelchair bound” Will Traynor and his caregiver Louisa “Lou” Clark.

What is being hailed as the romantic tale of a disabled man and his nurse is, in fact, a much darker tale of the suicidal ideation of a clinically depressed man and the people who try to convince him not to take his own life. Spoiler alert: they fail and he dies. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh and, as I’ve been told, too simplistic for a “much richer and deeper story about tragedy and the realities of life.”

As able-bodied book club members across the nation dabbed their eyes and praised the selflessness of a man who wanted only to save those he loved from the burden he had become, and lauded the courage of the woman who could see past all of that and love the man behind the disabilities enough to help him “die with dignity,” disabled people decried the stereotypes and prejudice they found within its pages.

I’ve read the book, and flipped through the Book Club Discussion Questions at the end which were written to spark a lively and thoughtful discussion. As the mother of a wheelchair user, I noticed that there were a few questions missing from their list. Here’s the Me Before You Supplemental Book Club Discussion Questions:

  1.  Do you know anyone who uses a wheelchair as a regular part of his/her life?
  2. How does that relationship, or lack of a relationship, affect your perception of Will’s desire to end his life?
  3. If you found yourself suddenly paralyzed due to an accident or illness, would you want to continue living in that state? Why or why not?
  4. If your child were suddenly paralyzed due to an accident or illness, would you want them to continue living in that state, or would you advocate for their death?
  5. Will’s character suffers from severe depression and suicidal ideation, both of which are seen in able-bodied people as mental illness and treated by healthcare professionals. Why, in your opinion, are depression and suicidal ideation accepted as not signs of mental illness for wheelchair users? Should they be?
  6. Will’s life is portrayed as being valuable only in relation to other people and in what he means to them. Does his life have intrinsic value independent of anyone’s opinion, even his own?
  7. This book/movie has been applauded by the able-bodied community, but almost universally condemned by those in the disability community. Is that an indication that perhaps there’s a problem with the way his life has been portrayed?
  8. The only suicides that are shown as acceptable by Hollywood standards, and applauded by audiences, are those of disabled individuals. Can the suicides of healthy, able-bodied people be justified in a similar way?
  9. Is it socially acceptable to be disabled in American society? (Parents who choose to carry disabled children to term are often decried for their selfishness, for causing harm to the child by letting him/her live an imperfect life, and/or creating a drain on societal resources.)
  10. Does acclaim the story of Me Before You has received reveal an anti-disability or able-ist bias in our culture? Is such a bias justifiable?
  11. If you think that Will has a right to end his life, and understand his decision to do so, are you pro-life? Are you a part of the Culture of Death? Would you recognize it if you were?