Jewish World Review March 3, 2005/ 22 Adar I, 5765
Clint Eastwood's euthanasia movie
For many years, I have reported on disability rights, and have come to
know people diagnosed as "vegetables" in their early years or later
as "hopelessly" disabled who have become psychologists, corporate
lawyers and even writers.
I have also learned from them that those of us who are not quadriplegic,
or otherwise physically limited, may only be "temporarily able." Any of
us can suddenly be disabled.
While gathering prestigious prizes, including Oscars for best picture
and directing, Eastwood's "Baby" (with its no-longer-a-surprise ending)
has attracted considerable criticism. For example, Lennard Davis,
professor of disability studies and human development in the College of
Health and Human Development Sciences, University of Illinois at
Chicago, writes in the Feb. 2 Chicago Tribune about the ultimate message
of the film.
By admirable determination Maggie (Hilary Swank) is successfully trained
to be a boxer by Frank (Eastwood). But then, paralyzed by a spinal cord
injury, she becomes a quadriplegic. Distraught after losing her leg to
bed sores, she beseeches her trainer to euthanize her (also known as
killing her). After some hesitation, he agrees. Pertinently, Professor
"Since 1990 there are laws that allow (cognitive) patients to refuse
treatment. A quadriplegic on a respirator could simply ask to be
disconnected from the device. Doctors would have done so and
administered a sedative so the person could die peacefully."
But Eastwood chose to have his character "illegally enter the hospital
and disconnect the device."
That "would make her gasp like a fish on the shore," says Stephen Drake,
whose mother was told he'd be a vegetable. Stephen is now research
analyst for Not Dead Yet, a disability rights group.
The National Spinal Cord Injury Association devoted since 1948 "to
improving the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of Americans
living with the results of spinal cord injury and disease and their
families" points out "this number grows by an average of 30 newly
injured people each day."
Reacting to this film, which more than suggests that death is preferable
to being disabled, John Hockenberry a paraplegic for the past three
decades and a correspondent for NBC news emphasizes:
"If Mr. Eastwood is so convinced that his film is grounded in reality
then perhaps he might wish to accompany me to the U.S. Army's Walter
Reed Medical Center in Maryland where there are 1,000 or so severely
disabled soldiers from Iraq whose lives are changed forever, who were
told they fought for Iraqi freedom and are now perhaps wondering, along
with their families, who is going to fight for their freedom to live a
full life here in America."
But instead of "Million Dollar Baby's" message, Hockenberry adds that,
"there is another message of hope and strength inside Walter Reed."
Many reviewers of "Baby" did not reveal the act of euthanasia at the end
of the movie because they didn't want to spoil the surprise for viewers.
And those who have spoiled that ending, through vigorous public
criticism of the "deliverance" of Maggie by Eastwood's character, have
been severely criticized by some commentators.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who vainly aspires to being a
moral philosopher, wrote scathingly of those who revealed the ending:
"The purpose of art is not always to send messages." But "Million Dollar
Baby" has a message, which is clear and deadly.
Disability rights activist Diane Coleman of Not Dead Yet, whom I've
known for years, points out that message: "Some of the (film's) audience
will be newly disabled people, their family members and friends, swept
along in the critically acclaimed emotion that the kindest response to
someone struggling with the life changes brought on by a severe injury
is, after all, to kill them."
Obviously, a filmmaker has the right to send any message he or she
wants, or send no message at all. But Clint Eastwood should not be
surprised that certain messages are not taken kindly by the disabled,
who are not dead yet and are as alive as he is.
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