Would Hollywood Want the Disabled Dead?

Article by

Director of Donor Partnerships

Dear Hollywood, why do you want me dead?

That’s the haunting question eleven-year-old Ella Frech is asking, prompted by the new movie Me Before You.

The movie released only a week ago, and already many people with disabilities have written movingly about it. But Ella may have written the most helpful, clearly articulated perspective. In doing so, she uses a major motion-picture to raise a larger issue about our culture’s inherit discomfort with disability.

You sit there with your able bodies, and look at people in chairs and think you feel pity for our sad little lives, but the truth is you’re afraid. You don’t want to imagine that you might be one of us one day. You think you can be perfect, and think you’d rather die than have parts that don’t work right. I think that’s sad.

Just as interesting are some comments on her article and other articles with the same viewpoint. While the comments for Ella were mostly supportive (who is going to directly attack such an articulate young girl, especially one with a disability?), even her article generated comments that sought to “correct” her perspective. These comments generally fall into one of two camps:

  • She isn’t qualified to speak on the subject because she has not read the book or watched the movie.

  • She misses the point about the movie. It isn’t about disability but about “choice.”

Both assertions are absurd. The one who has lived the life doesn’t need to read another book, or watch another movie, to comment on how the culture treats her.

And, of course, the movie is about disability. The whole “choice” argument made by the right-to-die movement is clearly discriminatory against disability. Even the hashtag for the movie (#liveboldly) applies to the lead character who is not disabled, while the one with the disability only gets to die boldly. At least they didn’t have to make up the organization that kills him — that one really exists in Switzerland.

Welcome to Ella’s World

It would be nice if these biases were only in one movie. But Ella lives in a country where a leading American presidential candidate mocked a reporter with disabilities on camera. His opponent is jumping on his ignorant biases with a $20 million ad campaign. Yet that candidate openly advocates against state laws that seek to protect unborn children with disabilities, making repeated arguments for the “choice” of the mothers and doctors, with no statement on the value of the babies with disabilities.

Ella also lives in a world where the thought of disability due to the Zika virus has encouraged the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to advocate for liberalizing abortion laws in countries across South America. The logical conclusion is clearly that disability is worse than being born, and abortion is better than raising a child with disabilities.

And she lives in a culture that thinks she’s courageous and special for having friends, pursuing athletics, and living what she calls “a regular life.” Without her disability, all of that would be called normal.

Our Opportunity

We should take careful notice. God is handing his church an opportunity to show him to be glorious and accessible to people the culture is saying shouldn’t even exist. The door is wide open to evangelizing marginalized people all around us. But we must not behave towards people with disabilities, or believe things about disability, like unbelieving society does.

Rather, let us believe what God has told us and point people to the very Book he gave us:

  • God creates intentionally for his glory, including disability. (Exodus 4:11; Psalm 139:13; John 9:3)

  • We are not called to overlook or minimize hardship in this life. Christ knows suffering. (Isaiah 53:3; Hebrews 2:10)

  • Christ saves the ungodly. People with disabilities are not ungodly because of their disabilities but because they are sinful people. (Romans 6:23)

  • Nothing, including disability, can separate us from God. (Romans 8:38–39)

  • We were all created for good works. (Ephesians 2:10)

  • God chooses those that others marginalize to make his name great. (1 Corinthians 1:27; 12:22)

  • The future is unimaginably bright for those called by Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:17; Revelation 21:5)

You don’t need a formal program at your church to get started. But you might need some courage to face your own fears about disability. I know I do when meeting someone with a disability for the first time, and I’ve lived with disability in my family for more than twenty years. God is faithful to help us. Pray in the moment, and then go introduce yourself!

Ella deserves to have the last word:

You may not believe in God. You don’t have to, and I can’t make you. But I do, and because of that I believe in the value of all people. I believe we are all made in his image and likeness. That’s why I believe all people are worth something. If you believe that people only get their value from each other, then people can take that away. But if our value comes from God, then nobody has the right to say someone who walks is worth more than someone who doesn’t.

(@johnpknight) is Director of Donor Partnerships at Desiring God. He is married to Dianne, and together they parent their four children: Paul, Hannah, Daniel, and Johnny. Paul lives with multiple disabilities including blindness, autism, cognitive impairments, and a seizure disorder. John writes on disability, the Bible, and the church at The Works of God.