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Million dollar sucker punch: people with disabilities take on the culture of death.

Note to readers: This column reveals a crucial plot twist in the movie Million Dollar Baby.

AS A CATHOLIC I AGREE WITH OUR CHURCH'S STRONG stance against euthanasia. As a person with disabilities, that commitment was reinforced for me when I was once advised not to request antibiotics for pneumonia because that illness could bring "an easy death." And despite knowing of Clint Eastwood's fight a few years ago to weaken the Americans with Disabilities Act, I rolled into the theater to view Million Dollar Baby determined to be fair.

Million Dollar Baby begins as a predictable, rather cliche fight film about two flawed and lonesome people. Frankie (Clint Eastwood) is a hapless trainer and owner of a run-down gym with unexplained guilt over his absent daughter. Maggie (Hilary Swank), who eventually fills that empty space, sees professional boxing as her escape from trailer park poverty.

The two finally make a significant human connection through the efforts of an ex-boxer named Eddie (Morgan Freeman). We are set up for the typical upbeat but zany ending as we glimpse crusty old Frank reading Yeats and Gaelic and attending daily Mass, but then the story winds down to its sucker punch ending.

In a tragic accident during her championship fight, Maggie breaks her neck and becomes paralyzed. Depressed, she loses her will to live and begs Frankie to euthanize her. After briefly hesitating and dismissing his pastor's moral warnings, Frankie disconnects the ventilator and gives her a lethal injection.

The movie is an artful attempt to normalize assisted suicide, and its unmistakable message is "Better dead than disabled." Many of us who oppose euthanasia fear the general public is being slowly yet efficiently trained to see such "final solutions" to human vulnerability as mercy killings.

Many assert that protests against this year's winner of four Oscars, including Best Picture, only enhance its popularity. Roger Ebert muses, "A movie is not good or bad because of its content but because of how it handles its content."

Most Americans agree that freedom of expression is important, even if we find some of those expressions infuriating. It's not unusual for movies to popularize repugnant stereotypes. Then why are many of us with disabilities so vehemently opposed to the typecasting we see in Million Dollar Baby? After all, it's only a movie.

Our anger has less to do with the movie's many inaccuracies and artistic license than with the general public's lack of knowledge about disabilities like the one portrayed in the movie. Too few people know what rehabilitation and the human spirit can accomplish for those with spinal cord injuries. If respect for our individual abilities and support for our meaningful inclusion in society were not only the law of the land but a widely recognized moral responsibility, the whole misleading setup for Maggie's death would be less threatening.

I could agree with Ebert if misinformation about disabilities were not so prevalent in print, movies, and television. The culture of death awaits us if fellow Catholics and the general public fail to see the insidious consequences of normalizing assisted suicide. This movie has the potential of being more successful than most culture-of-death attempts in normalizing the view that the cheapest, most efficient way to deal with disabilities is to eliminate those of us who have succumbed to the essential vulnerability of the human body.

DISINTEREST ERODES THE GAINS WE THOUGHT WOULD result from the passage 15 years ago of the Americans with Disabilities Act. God has given us more than one way to move, more than a single strategy to learn and share insights, different methods to accomplish tasks. When we as a society accept that reality, the artistic misinformation in Million Dollar Baby will no longer threaten our existence.

The fiction of Maggie's life post-injury is heartbreaking. I pray that those who view the film will remember this is a fabrication and not allow themselves to be swept up in perpetuating the negativity that continues to plague the efforts of the disability community to break free of the stereotypes of the past. We must be allowed to live into that future God intends for each of us.

By MARY JANE OWEN, a prominent Catholic disability and prolife advocate and the director of Disabled Catholics in Action.
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Title Annotation:glorification of euthanasia in Clint Eastwood's film Million Dollar Baby
Author:Owen, Mary Jane
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2005
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