By Laura Kizior and Mary Kizior
Like many moviegoers, you might have left a showing of the teen love story Me Before You with tears in your eyes but questions pounding in your brain. Does quadriplegic Will Traynor show his love for Louisa Clark, his paid companion, by killing himself and leaving her his immense fortune? Was watching Will die the best way for Louisa to show her love for him?
Despite its deceptive trailer, Me Before You isn’t actually a love story. Me Before You is a story about selfishness. Me before you: My wants and desires come before yours. Sacrificial love is not portrayed as the willingness to accept suffering for the good of another person. Rather, the main character demonstrates his “love” by committing suicide and throwing away God’s gift of life.
In the film, vivacious and expressive Louisa Clark (Lou) takes a job as a companion for handsome playboy turned quadriplegic Will Traynor. When Lou learns that Will intends to commit suicide in Switzerland, she decides to do everything she can to help Will see the beauty and value of his life.
Spoiler alert: She fails. Miserably. Will decides that he doesn’t love her enough to endure his life with her as a paralyzed man. He appeals to an assisted suicide organization in Switzerland to help him kill himself. Then he asks the heartbroken Lou to watch him die. Even though she doesn’t agree with his choice, Lou travels to Switzerland to show her support for Will at his planned death.
Instead of the two of them riding off into the sunset in the perfect ending to a quirky love story, the film ends with Lou in Paris on a trip by herself, paid for by the money she inherits from Will. In a farewell letter, Will tells Lou to “live well”—advice he couldn’t follow himself. He loves her, he says, but not enough to go on living.
The film is nothing more than thinly disguised euthanasia propaganda. Will’s decision to commit physician-assisted suicide is portrayed as a selfless and humane option for people with disabilities.
Our Christian faith teaches that it is noble and selfless to give up your life for another person. True love means willing the good of another and not holding anything back, even if that means laying down your life to save someone else’s.
Through His sacrifice on the cross, Christ gives us a concrete example of what it means to love. Many saints and martyrs have followed Christ’s example, including St. Gianna Molla, who refused to abort her preborn child to save her own life, and St. Maximilian Kolbe, who bravely offered to take another man’s place in the starvation bunker in Auschwitz.
To give up your life for another person is noble and heroic, but to take your own is a grave evil. In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Saint John Paul II describes suicide and assisted suicide as a “perversion of mercy” because they destroy God’s greatest gift—life (#66). Assisted suicide for those who have disabilities devalues their lives. It’s like saying that people with disabilities are better off dead than alive.
Euthanasia is quickly becoming the next greatest threat to the dignity of the human person in our country. The media and movies like Me Before You glamorize assisted suicide and make it seem a reasonable option to suffering. If we want to stop the legalization of euthanasia in our country, we must educate our children.
How to talk to your children about assisted suicide
As laws and public opinion become more in favor of assisted suicide, we need to be aware of how these attitudes can affect our families and our future. Here are three points you can address to help teens understand the hidden agendas of Me Before You and why your family should understand that this film is dangerous:
1) People with disabilities can still have an excellent quality of life.
Throughout life, people go through many changes and challenges, quadriplegia and disability being some of the most extreme challenges a person can face. If we believe that our lives are no longer worth living, we must find ways to combat these feelings of depression before they consume us. Our friends and family should help us as well by doing whatever it takes to uphold the dignity we all deserve.
Our lives are a precious gift from God. If we are still living, we still have a mission and a purpose here on earth. Life is certainly a lot harder when you have to rely on others for your every need, but this suffering never makes life worthless.
2) Assisted suicide is neither dignified nor merciful.
When animals are sick and nearing death, owners are often advised to have their pets “put down” so as to alleviate their suffering. Unlike human beings, animals do not have the capacity to understand their suffering. Nor do they have souls. As human beings created in the image and likeness of God, we have the ability to see the purpose of suffering and to unite ourselves with the suffering of Christ on the cross. But suffering doesn’t just affect the person with disabilities. Caregivers, family members, and even complete strangers are given a unique opportunity to see the plan of God manifested in a person with disabilities. If that person is murdered via assisted suicide, his opportunity to impact the world is taken away.
3) Love doesn’t let those we care about commit suicide.
When we see people suffering, our natural instinct is to show compassion for their situation and do whatever we can to alleviate their suffering. We sometimes forget that suffering can be used to grow closer to God.
However, euthanasia is neither compassion nor care. Loving care means walking beside a person who is suffering and helping him see the beauty and value of his life. Not stopping someone from committing suicide, or encouraging him to commit suicide, is a step away from outright murder. True compassionate care seeks to alleviate suffering without eliminating the person.
When we see the culture of death coming at us from all sides, it is easy to become discouraged. We must remember that God is ultimately in control, but we have to be open to receiving his grace in order to change the society around us. Together, we can stop threats against human beings and keep people from the despair and hopelessness of the culture of death. If we don’t take a stand against euthanasia, who will?
Use every opportunity to talk with your high school students about what the Church teaches regarding euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. In the educational resource Euthanasia: An Introduction by American Life League’s Culture of Life Studies Program, high school students learn why we believe euthanasia is wrong and how they can respond to threats against the dignity of the human person at the end of life. Find Euthanasia: An Introduction and other pro-life resources at cultureoflifestudies.com.