Close to Home: ‘Me Before You,' ‘right to die' law devalues those with disabilities

As someone who has had a major disability for 49 years, I can assure you that there are constant, deeply ingrained societal pressures to devalue one's life with a disability. The movie 'Me Before You' adds a huge dollop of shame, misinformation and persecution to the mix.

I have a great deal of concern that a disabled person's reason to die may stem more from societal devaluation of their life than from despair at their disability, particularly for those who become disabled as adults.

For many people with disabilities, it's a constant struggle to believe in one's self-worth in spite of the daily messages from others that life with a disability is pitiful and a burden to those around them.

The problem with the new 'right to die' legislation that goes into effect on Tuesday in California is that this is not a perfect world. In a perfect world, where we could be sure that there were no ulterior motives for killing a person with a disability, this law would make sense. However, in the real world, where ableism rules, the 'right to die' becomes a convenient way to rid society of 'defectives.' (A word I use on purpose from Hitler's propaganda machine.)

California state Architect Chet Widom has spent the past four years since his appointment by Gov. Jerry Brown decreasing the building standards that provide access to parking, restaurants and sidewalks, a violation of state Government Code 4459. This was all done with the approval of the California Building Standards Commission, another arena of gubernatorial appointees.

While this is going on under Brown's administration, the state Legislature has passed bills that will allow businesses to continue to discriminate against people with disabilities with impunity, while at the same time disallowing any compensation to people with disabilities who suffer the discrimination. (The recent signing of SB 269 by the governor is the culmination of years of whittling away of disability rights laws.)

While other minorities may be compensated for the humiliation and pain of discrimination, the new law decrees that when people with disabilities suffer discrimination, they are not to be compensated.

In other words, the Legislature has decreed that their suffering has no value, because people with disabilities have no value.

The laws passed in California are now bills at the federal level. The backlash to disability civil rights laws is in full swing, and we are losing the rights we fought for so long and hard.

Meanwhile, the film 'Me Before You' provides more justification for this devaluation of people with disabilities. The author of the book, 'Me Before You,' admits that she knows nothing about quadriplegia, yet she didn't hesitate to pander to fear and ignorance to justify the 'mercy' killing of the young man in the story who has yet to deal with his grief and depression at the changes in his life.

Writing in his blog, 'Bad Cripple,' William Peace, a college professor and a quadriplegic, states, 'The fact they don't know a person with an actual disability empowers them to freely imagine what a rotten existence we crippled people are forced to live. For if we people with a disability were truly brave and strong we would kill ourselves and thereby end our misery. Those of us who live, learn and adapt to a disability are an inconvenient reminder of all that can go wrong in life.'

Please join me in refusing to see the film 'Me Before You,' which is now playing in Santa Rosa and other local theaters.

HolLyn D'Lil is the author of "Becoming Real in 24 Days," a historical memoir of the 1997 event that stopped the re-institution of the separate but equal doctrine and carved out the space in the American consciousness for the passages of the Americans With Disabilities Act. She lives in Graton.

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