Me Before You

Me Before You Assisted Suicide Controversy

Though Me Before You sold well, its publication was not without controversy, particularly after the book was made into a film in 2016. This isn't surprising, since physician-assisted suicide, one of the novel's major themes, is a consistently hot-button issue. Will's shocking decision reverberated outside of the book's fictional world, joining a much broader conversation about the ethics of assisted suicide as a whole and the role of storytellers in talking about it. Dignitas, where Will chooses to go in order to die, is a real place in Switzerland. Since assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, and since Dignitas allows foreign clients, it receives a small but consistent number of clients from the United Kingdom. Most of these clients are suffering from painful illnesses and choose to die of their own accord before their illness worsens. Some advocates, both individuals and organizations, argue that the British laws against assisted suicide are unfairly strict and only cause those seeking it to leave the country and use services like Dignitas. They argue that people suffering from painful illnesses have a right to decide on the circumstances of their own death, just as Nathan argues in the book when he defends Will's wish to die. Several high-profile cases in past years have drawn attention to the struggles of people seeking a dignified death through Dignitas, drawing sympathy for supporters of physician-assisted suicide.

Other activists, particularly those who argue for disability rights, are strongly against looser laws in Britain when it comes to assisted suicide. They fear that non-disabled doctors or family members might use the opportunity to pressure the disabled into dying, even when the disabled person has no desire to do so. Furthermore, they express concern that offering opportunities for suicidal patients to die ignores the social and political factors that might make that person suicidal in the first place. These activists believe that services for disabled people and sick people should be improved in order to make their lives easier, more comfortable, and more dignified so that they do not feel the need to commit suicide.

In her novel, Moyes presents both sides of the debate through various perspectives. Will, of course, believes that it is his right to choose to die in order to avoid a lifetime of pain and frustration, and Nathan supports him. Georgina believes that Will has an obligation to live for the sake of his family, and Lou's mother believes that Will's family, as well as Lou, are at fault for pressuring Will to end his life. Ritchie and many of the other quadriplegic people Lou speaks to online understand Will's feelings of hopelessness but believe that he should be helped to lead a better life, while one person on the message board disagrees, saying that the able-bodied cannot be expected to understand the extent of Will's trials. Since Will does ultimately choose to commit suicide, though, many advocates for disability rights expressed anger over the film's release and marketing, and, as a consequence, over Moyes' story as well. In particular, activist groups such as "Not Dead Yet" found the storyline harmful because of the portrayal of Will's suicide as noble and selfless. Will overtly chooses to die in order to give Lou a better life, and he encourages Lou to pursue her dreams after he is gone, implying that he can no longer pursue his own. Disabled activists argued that this message would lead other disabled people to feel burdensome to their loved ones, and made the point that Will's decision and experience are extremely uncommon and atypical. Other reviewers have pointed out that Will's suicide is seen by his loved ones as a tragic, irrational choice, and that it causes a great deal of pain to others.

Ultimately, the issue of assisted suicide has long inflamed tempers, and those seeking more information don't have far to look. While Moyes writes about it through the lens of fiction, activists on both sides of the issue have defended their positions in the form of memoirs, op-eds, and academic and legal writing. Undoubtedly, the release of Me Before You and its movie adaptation prompted people outside of the world of assisted suicide advocacy or disability rights activism to consider their stances on the issue.