Fiction & The Sanctity of Life: Thoughts After Reading About “Me Before You”

Several months ago, I was scrolling through Facebook when a movie trailer caught my attention. The actor who played Finnick in Mockingjay sat in a wheelchair and smiled at a pretty girl. Even without turning the volume on, it was clear the man in the wheelchair and the girl were falling in love. I smiled a little and moved on.

When I mentioned the trailer to a friend, she told me the movie was sparking a lot of controversy. The story (which I haven’t read or watched) depicts a newly wheelchair bound man and his female caregiver falling in love, but the ending has a big twist. The man decides to end his own live via doctor assisted suicide.

fiction-the-sanctity-of-life

 

It’s been months since I heard about the ending to Me Before You, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Any form of suicide is sad, but medically assisted suicide seems most disturbing. It’s bad enough for one person to make a decision from a place of hopelessness, but assisted suicide is others agreeing with that hopelessness and participating in it rather than trying to give the hurting individual a reason to live.

Hearing about the ending to Me Before You hit me like a punch. Why would an author want to promote medically assisted suicide? How could movie goers flock to a movie like that? What does a story like that and consumers’ reaction to it say about our culture?

Fiction is one of the most powerful art forms available to us. It engages emotion and intellect. It pulls us into the joys and struggles of fictional people and for a while, we experience their stories vicariously.

So does the message fictional stories send about the value of life matter? Does fiction shape the way we think, or does it merely reflect the culture?

Jojo Moyes, the author of Me Before You, says that her intention with the novel was more about the way people with disabilities are treated than the right to die debate.

Although, it discusses the right to die, what it also does in much greater depth—I hope—is lay bare the way we treat disabled people as different, when actually they are not.

She also explains that the ending of her book was partly inspired by questions she found herself asking as she cared for a relative with a progressive illness.

At what point does the quality become meaningless? At what point do you give someone the right to decide for themselves? … You try to find a silver lining in any situation. What you realize with some conditions and illnesses, there is no silver lining. That’s really hard to take because it goes against all your feelings as a human being.

I can understand where she’s coming from with these questions. They are questions my family has been forced to wrestle with over the past few years, first when my grandmother entered hospice three years ago and again only a few months ago when my grandfather suffered a heart attack and we had to make the decision to take him off life support.

Fiction can bring us to those places of wrestling with hard questions and they can give the author a poignant way to share their conclusions (or lack of conclusions).

I believe fiction both reflects and shapes, which is why I believe we should think carefully about the stories we tell and the tales we consume.

Moyes asks, “At what point do you give someone the right to decide for themselves?” The truth is, we all have choices to make. Everyone who is capable of thinking and doing decides for themselves if life is worth living, and they decide what to do about their decision. But what about the rest of us? What is our responsibility?

We have a choice to. We can choose to do nothing. We can choose to support an enable a person regardless of what they choose. Or we can choose to fight for hope. To fight for truth. We can choose to leave dark places dark, we can choose to stand guard to keep light from peeping into dark places, or we can choose to shine the light whenever possible.

When I ask myself if the message fiction sends about the value of life is important, my answer is “YES” every single time, because fiction is the author’s decision on what to fight for. Taking a stand doesn’t strip someone else of their ability to choose, it simply displays the choice that you’ve made and invites people to come see how you reached that conclusion.

I can’t fault Moyes for asking the questions she’s asked or coming to the conclusions she came to. It’s hard to watch people you love suffer. It’s easy to come to the conclusion that there is no silver lining. But that’s not the message I want to send.

Fiction can confirm the pain people feel. It can tell them, “You’re right, there is no silver lining.” Or story can tell people, “Don’t settle for hopelessness. There is a silver lining, you just have to persevere. Don’t quit before the finish line. If you can’t find hope, it’s because you’re looking in the wrong places. Look to God. Trust Him. There is always hope.”

If you’re a story teller, ask yourself what perspective you’ll choose to reflect. If you’re a consumer of stories, think about the message you’re sending by the stories you support and recommend. Words aren’t something to be taken lightly.

What do you think about the value of life in fiction? What books have you read that send a message about the value of life? What did you think of them? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

Leave a comment

17 Comments

  1. Beautiful post! I was also shocked by the ending of “Me Before You”, and thought it quite sad. You’re totally right; it’s important to send a message you believe in, and I hope my stories show hope. Thank you for this! ❤

    Reply
  2. This is a fantastic post, Leah. Especially this: “Taking a stand doesn’t strip someone else of their ability to choose, it simply displays the choice that you’ve made and invites people to come see how you reached that conclusion.”

    I think this is one of the hardest things to do well, not only in fiction, but in every mode of communication. To take a stand with gentleness and respect, allowing others to choose their response, but inviting them to consider what you have presented to them.

    Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
    • Yes! I tend to be a very direct person, which unfortunately means my natural default is to whack people over the head with my opinion. Learning to take a stand with gentleness and grace is something the Lord has been teaching me over the past few years. I have a long way to go, but at least I’m learning!

      Reply
  3. Spencer

     /  November 20, 2016

    I’m glad you’ve addresssed this, Leah. It’s always easiest to ignore tough issues like this but it’s good you didn’t. Thanks for your thoughts and encouragement.

    Reply
  4. hannarothfuss

     /  November 20, 2016

    We recently returned from China, after our second international adoption. At different times on the plane on the way there two or three different people watched “Me Before You” directly in front of me. The screens being right in my line of vision, I saw a significant amount of the movie, though of course without sound. There was something about it that appealed to me. How about the pretty girl falls in love with a man in a wheelchair, not a handsome, “perfect” prince-charming character! It was unique.
    I was disappointed when someone told me it ended with the man killing himself, but I didn’t know it was assisted suicide. I think it is sad this is an issue we need to discuss at all, and I think these are questions we would all rather not ask or answer. But most, if not all of us, will probably have to face them sooner or later.
    I really appreciate the thought you put into these issues, and the fact that you’re not willing to ignore them or sugar-coat them. I believe you are 100% right: God is the only one to look to for hope, and no situation is ever beyond the reach of His help!
    Thank you for the reminder to be serious about what message my stories reflect! Your book is one of the most inspiring and hopefully novels I have ever read!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Hanna. I agree that there is something about the movie that is very appealing! The trailer definitely intrigued me. It’s sad that such gripping storytelling promoted such an unsettling message.

      I’m glad you found Counted Worthy hopeful! It’s so serious near the end that I had to work hard to try to make it still end with hope.

      Reply
      • hannarothfuss

         /  November 22, 2016

        Your ending was absolutely amazing, so know your work paid off! I consider it one of the best endings I’ve ever read.

        Reply
  5. Amber

     /  November 21, 2016

    Good thoughts! Just a by the way, are you planning to write a sequel to Counted Worthy any time soon?

    Reply
    • I’ve been getting that question a lot over the past few weeks! The plan is to write a sequel soon … provided we don’t hit any more family emergencies. 🙂

      Reply
      • Amber

         /  November 21, 2016

        Ooo good! I can’t wait!

        Reply
        • I really wanted to have it done a year ago, but writer’s block and work and deaths in the family have been working against me. Lord willing I’ll get into a grove soon! I’d certainly appreciate prayers in that vein.

        • Amber

           /  November 22, 2016

          Ah yes, I understand, and I’ll definitely be praying for you!

  6. This is an amazing post. Thank you so much for sharing, Leah. 🙂 I haven’t read or saw “Me Before You”, but I have also saw the trailer and heard about it. It saddens me to think about it…about how many people apparently do have assisted suicide. It’s so wrong!!

    As Christians, we should reflect Christ in everything and I believe that includes our writing. It’s my prayer that my writing could always give off the light of life, joy, and hope.

    Thanks again! ❤ Unless you have an objection, I would like to link to this post during my 'November recap' posts as one of the best I read on other blogs during the month. 🙂

    Reply
  1. Pro-Life Stories | Leah's Bookshelf

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s