I admit, I saw the previews for the movie and was captivated. I can’t wait. So, in the spirit of not waiting, and because I’m a reader, I went ahead and read the book. I think this one merits a quick discussion as some of the subject is quite heavy. **Spoiler alert** I caught a vague sense in the preview that it’s more than just a love story about a man in a wheel chair and an “AB” (able-bodied) woman, but the movie didn’t quite let me in on the prevalence of the theme of assisted suicide. In fact, be prepared, it’s the entire foundation of the story, the motivation for everything that happens. Will Traynor doesn’t want to live as a quadriplegic and has promised his parents to hold off on assisted suicide for 6 months. Louisa is hired to be his assistant for 6 months in the hopes that she can motivate him to want to live.
Here’s the thing I struggled with the most, not the reality of his despair and pain and depression that would lead him to want to die, but the hopelessness of the situation. Frankly, without Christ, reading the book in the world as it’s presented, I wholly understood and even sympathized with his thinking. Just as I wholly understood and sympathized with Louisa and his family who wanted him to want to live. The book does a great job in many ways of explaining both sides and even presenting other quadriplegics who found a will to live while still sympathizing with Will’s will to die. And as I read the book, I knew there was only one possible ending for this story. If Will didn’t die, things would sour and/or the audience would be left with too many questions unanswered…the story simply couldn’t end without an actual ending to the situation… Will had to die.
The real problem with this is that this was such a short-sighted perspective of the situation. It’s only looking at the physical reality, the pain and the pursuit of pleasure on this earth. I don’t really see that it even took into account the idea of the meaning and purpose of our lives. Many will argue this with me – because he did have an impact on Louisa which he took seriously, but even that was nearsighted. He didn’t think about the greater good he could do in the world at large, a legacy he could leave with his life. But while that point is debatable, it certainly doesn’t take into account the fact that if Christ is real, then everything about this reality changes. I’m not just talking about the possibility of miracles and healing, but the promise that God can bring about good from anything, no matter how hard. The promise that God has a plan and a purpose for our lives. Without that, then yes, Will has every right to end his life on his terms. But, with that, then the reality is that Will is playing God, instead of trusting God. He is deciding when his life’s meaning is done. He’s deciding when God’s purpose for his suffering is no longer as important as his own desires, and/or he’s deciding that God can’t do what He says.
This story will surely help readers be more sympathetic to the struggles that quadriplegics face (as well as people with all kinds of handicaps and injuries)—emotionally, physically, relationally… in every way. It will help you understand why people might want to die rather than live. But it falls short of giving you any real hope (other than that you might find romantic love to ease the pain), and it falls short of giving you any real truth to stand on. Feelings of sympathy are important, don’t get me wrong, but they aren’t the same as truth. You can get lost in feelings, but you can stand on truth.
If you or someone you know is reading the book (I would say especially the young teens who are particularly impressionable and sympathetic and who are most likely to be reading this anyway), then I encourage you to take some time to discuss the book. Help them learn how to think through what the book makes them feel, versus what is true. Help them glean understanding from the book (this lets them value what it is good without feeling defensive, which is the natural response to feeling something they enjoyed being criticized) without having to adopt its conclusion and philosophy about life and the world we live in (this helps them learn to be critical thinkers and not just mindless consumers).
The book isn’t all bad, by any means. I enjoyed it (although I’m not a huge fiction reader). It was a good beach read kind of book. And, it was “fairly” clean, at least in that it was modest in its descriptions. Even though the main characters were casual about sex outside of marriage, there were no graphic descriptions and their relationship stayed very sweet and pure (some of that wasn’t by desire but by necessity, but I’ll take it). And it gave me some insight into a subject I may not have been as compassionate about. But, know that becoming more compassionate about the subject doesn’t mean you have to change your beliefs about what is right or wrong or true. It may just mean that you become better at speaking the truth in love into the subject. My concern, however, is that younger minds don’t always know how to feel something without jumping on board. Their compassion moves them to change their thinking. This is where our ability to speak well into the subject can help them take the wheat and toss the chaffe and become more discerning consumers of their culture.
Questions for Discussion:
- Why didn’t Will want to live? How do you feel about his desire to die? Was he right or wrong and why?
- Do you think that a belief in a God with a purpose, who can turn anything into good, would change things for Will’s decision to live or die?
- Even though he wanted to die for his own suffering sake, do you think that there could have been a greater purpose to his living?
- Can you be sympathetic to something without agreeing with it?
- Do you think the story presented all the sides to the argument for assisted suicide? What might they have left out?
- If you think assisted suicide is OK, as the book suggests, then where/how do you draw the line? What about the elderly? What about people who are just depressed or whose lives aren’t going like they want? Is this something that should be OK for everyone, or only for some? How would you make those kinds of decisions? Do you think that allowing assisted suicide in Will’s case is opening a Pandora’s box—that it sets a precedent for assisted suicide in other (maybe even all?) situations?
- Is assisted suicide for medical reasons like Will’s really any different from any other suicide, like someone who wants to commit suicide because they are depressed, for example?
- Should suicide really just be a matter of a person’s “right to choose” or are there other governing principles to consider?