Me Before You is the Romantic film of the summer however it is also one of the most controversial in respect of its portrayal of spinal cord injury.
Based on the book by Jojo Moyes, the film focuses on Will Trainer, a young man in his late 20s with a successful career and a passion for extreme sports. Will suffers spinal cord injury and becomes tetraplegic as a result of a motorbike accident. The film follows what happens to him after his injury.
It is not an easy view. On many levels it is depressing: not just in terms of the plotline but more troublingly in that it misses an opportunity to better inform those watching what life with spinal cord injury is really like. Of course it is accepted that Hollywood is about escapism and make believe, but I couldn’t help but feel that the film could have still been engaging and worth watching if had a different ending and was more faithful to the day to day reality of the people my colleagues and I help in the aftermath of spinal cord injury.
In some respects Me Before You gives an insight into Will’s daily care routine, his physiotherapy sessions, the numerous tablets he needs on a daily basis and even a attack of autonomic dysreflexia. But the story has two halves and the suggestion, at its end, that assisted suicide is heroic, laudable, and the right thing for Will to do is deeply troubling.
I get it – this is Hollywood: it isn’t real. Yet I cannot help but think these things do sometimes become confused; misinterpreted and potentially dangerous. The idea that someone with a disability is a burden is a hugely destructive message to send. #LiveBoldly is the film’s Twitter hashtag but there seems to be a mixed message here. Live boldly and marry the woman you love (the woman who loves you!) would have been more plausible; more telling, and just as engaging.
It is important that people are aware of the support and opportunities available to them especially when vulnerable. The Spinal Injuries Association offers support and advice on their helpline or via their website.
The SIA support the empowerment of SCI people and their right to lead full and active lives, participate in society and achieve their potential. In line with this, we were pleased that the film takes time to show that with the right support, people can live positive and fulfilling lives. However, we also recognise that not everyone will feel able to rebuild their lives and that there may be occasion when an individual chooses to research or even action their right to die. In such occasions, SIA believes that individuals must have the right support, advocacy and safeguards to enable them to make an informed decision that takes into account, not just their present circumstances but their potential future. Access to this support is crucial to enabling people to move forward and rebuild their lives.