Friday, March 11, 2005

Million Dollar Baby a Moral Flop: Independent Disabled Student Says Euthanasia No Answer

Having just come back to London from spring break, I found myself relaxing in front of the television Sunday night. After surfing for several minutes, I found myself watching the Oscars. As the awards were being handed out I began to feel sick to my stomach. Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby was cleaning up…Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress, and Best Picture. As I pushed my wheelchair forward to change the channel I accidentally knocked the remote off the table and no one was around to help me pick it up. Maybe this is the suffering that Clint Eastwood was alluding to.

So why were the Oscars making me so nauseous? No, it wasn’t the horrible fashion or the schmoozing; it was the fact that the film industry was both recognizing and commending a movie that glorifies the euthanasia, or mercy killing, of individuals with disabilities. Without delving too deeply into the plotline, Clint Eastwood’s newest movie, Million Dollar Baby, is the story of a female boxer who becomes paralyzed during a boxing match and can see no reason to continue living. The underlying message being delivered to audiences through this movie is that the disabled cannot live happy and fulfilling lives and it is our duty to mercifully end their suffering.

What is frustrating is that I have spent my entire life trying to explain to people that the disabled population is not angry and do live happy and fulfilling lives. Being born with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy, I have spent my entire life in a wheelchair. Growing up in a wheelchair was not easy. I can remember when I was younger all I could think about was becoming an NHL Goaltender, a dream that was squashed by my inability to stand. However, as I grew up I began using an electric wheelchair and a myriad of other adaptations that provided me with the opportunity to attend class, socialize, play sports, and get grounded by my parents on what seemed to be a near constant basis. As I grew older, I developed new dreams and ambitions, began dating and was eventually accepted into university. I am now a 3rd year student at the University of Western Ontario, living completely independently with the help of a dedicated staff of personal service workers.

I feel it is important that the public knows that this movie is merely a fiction that does not represent the dominant ethos of the disabled population. Million Dollar Baby is of the opinion that because Hilary Swank’s character’s disability, her life is now hopeless and desolate and the only merciful thing to do is to end her suffering. In fact, Swank’s character asked to be killed on more than one occasion, making reference to the humane killing of injured and old dogs. Never in my life have I seen death as ‘way out’. In fact, a majority of my life has been spent avoiding the Grim Reaper at all costs.

For the disabled, as with everyone else in this world, happiness comes from making the most of life with whatever abilities you have. For me, this meant calling a friend from down the hall to pick up the remote and turn off the television. Perhaps Dirty Harry should stick to fighting crime because this old dog is not in need of his 44 magnum.

Jeff Preston is a London Ontario resident.
He can be contacted through his website:

Jeff Preston©
[This article first ran in the London Free Press, Tuesday March 8, 2005, and is on a similar important theme - - the true nature of human dignity, as Dr. Brigit Campion's piece on the Centre's website: Church ’s end-of-life teaching is a gift to be shared (click title)]
Reprinted by permission.