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Back to: Million Dollar Baby

Life's worth more than a ‘Million'
By Ann Neville-Jan

Warning: Reading this will spoil the 'surprise' ending to the movie "Million Dollar Baby.'

AS a person with a disability, I cannot ignore the message inherent in the Oscar contender for best picture, "Million Dollar Baby.' Society needs to hear another voice.

The main theme depicted in the movie for me, and many disabled people like me is that you are better off dead than living with a disability. How do we come to that conclusion? Let's take a look.

The film chronicles the rise to fame of a woman boxer Maggie (Hillary Swank), and her coach, Frankie (Clint Eastwood), who reluctantly takes her to a career pinnacle, only to witness his protege becoming a quadriplegic. Frankie takes her to a rehabilitation facility where she develops pressure sores and eventually requires an amputation. She asks Frankie to euthanize her, which he does by turning off her oxygen and giving her an IV dose of adrenaline.

Steven Drake, research analyst for Not Dead Yet, an organization that opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia, says "This is, in reality, a recipe for an agonizing death, combining suffocation with your heart feeling like it will explode.'

I went to the movie with my husband and was shocked by the depiction of rehabilitation and the result euthanasia.

Were we to assume that Maggie had already participated in occupational therapy, physical therapy, and psychological counseling? And that, despite this, she made her decision?

I don't think that was Eastwood's intention. He cut to the chase of his underlying message: that life is not worth living with a spinal-cord injury.

To the contrary, many people with a spinal cord injury participate in society despite widespread discrimination.

Eastwood has a history of fighting the Americans With Disabilities Act after being sued as owner of a hotel resort found not in compliance with accessibility standards.

In a recent press release issued by the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, CEO Marcie Roth said she was "... saddened but not surprised that he uses the power of fame and film to perpetuate his view that the lives of people with disabilities are not worth living.'

The press release questioned whether this movie was Eastwood's revenge.

I have a type of spinal cord injury called spina bifida. I am concerned with euthanasia, not just at the end of life, but at the beginning as well in utero. With the advent of better and earlier detection measures, a frightening 90 percent of parents in Western countries opt for abortion or termination of pregnancy when the child has spina bifida, according to the International Federation for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus.

Spina bifida, like spinal cord injuries, is perceived as a tragedy. My life is far from the catastrophe depicted in "Million Dollar Baby.'

As we left the movie theater my husband wondered aloud, "What would Christopher Reeve have thought?'

Ann Neville-Jan is an associate professor in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at the University of Southern California. She lives in South Pasadena and can be contacted by e-mail at aneville@usc.edu.

Permission to post on Paralinks requested from author 02.06.05