Amy Hasbrouck – ‘Amour’ and Fear: Assisted Suicide/Mercy Killing at the Oscars


By Amy E. Hasbrouck

Once again, a film about “euthanasia” has won an Oscar.  Back in the ‘70s the tear-jerker movies were about people dying of cancer.  In the ‘80s and ‘90s, it was people dying of AIDS.  For the 21st century, the new chic is euthanasia/assisted suicide/”mercy killing” movies.  Million Dollar Baby, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The English Patient, The Sea Inside, Un Dimanche à Kigali, Le Temps qui Reste, The Barbarian Invasion (Les Invasions Barbares), Magnus – all have taken on euthanasia/assisted suicide/”mercy killing” from the point of view of non-disabled white people and come to the same conclusion; great idea!

Now we have the film Amour, directed by Michael Haneke, whose leading actors took the Palm d’Or at Cannes in 2012.  The story concerns Anna and George, an elderly couple, former music teachers who live in a nice apartment in Paris.  After a series of strokes, Anna is partially paralyzed and her memory begins to fail.  The couple withdraws, refusing contact and the help of friends, relatives and neighbours, while George cares for Anna as her mental and physical abilities decline.  In the end he suffocates her.

Given the film industry’s adoration of movies that end with a man “lovingly” killing a spouse, it was no surprise when Amour was awarded an Oscar for Best Foreign Picture.

In the real world, many studies have shown that in cases of “assisted suicide”/euthanasia/”mercy killing in elderly couples, the woman is generally an unwilling victim, and there is often a history of domestic violence.  This fact is rarely reflected in the superficial media coverage in the immediate aftermath of such gruesome crimes.  By the time the truth of the matter has been uncovered, the media spotlight has moved on, and the public is left with the same false impression; “he did it for love.”

There has been almost no discussion in the francophone media of the disability and human rights problems with the narrative of Amour, and little in the Anglophone press either.  No critics questioned the film’s seemingly inevitable ending, or George’s motives for killing his wife.  Not surprising, but disappointing anyway.

It’s troubling that films like this come out so often, but fail to educate the public about the real issues in assisted suicide and euthanasia.  In the case of Clint Eastwood’s film, his consistent and vocal opposition to the Americans with Disabilities Act suggests a possible motive for killing off his disabled protagonist.  For other writers and filmmakers, the examination of the issue generally arises more from fear of disability, unresolved grief, or other feelings common to non-disabled people.

Like other media portrayals, these films usually show people with disability either as sad, tragic and incapable victims, or as inspirational over-achievers, but never as ordinary human beings.  Nor do the filmmakers focus on their struggles against the external barriers and discrimination that limit their life options, focusing instead on the physical changes that are natural to the human experience.

The message is clear; the lives of those of us with disabilities are not worth living.  We are better off dead, and the sooner the better.  These attitudes only perpetuate fear of and discrimination against disabled people, and the more often this lie is spoken, the deeper entrenched the fear becomes.  Through that discrimination, the lie becomes the truth, and pressure grows to allow assisted suicide and euthanasia for old, ill and disabled people.

Amy E. Hasbrouck is the director of Toujours Vivant-Not Dead Yet, a project of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities that unites people with disabilities who oppose assisted suicide, euthanasia and other discriminatory end-of-life practices.

5 thoughts on “Amy Hasbrouck – ‘Amour’ and Fear: Assisted Suicide/Mercy Killing at the Oscars

  1. I didn’t even realize that Clint Eastwood was opposed to the ADA. That’s disgusting.

    What is romantic about killing your wife? I love French films, and have not seen this one yet.

  2. I have multiple sclerosis. I would like to think that when the time comes, that my choosing euthanasia will be legal, and not having stigmas attached to it.
    i love old movies. in one film someone was looking for they’re relative. the church pastor explains that this person’s grave is away from the others. sort of the equivalent of ‘potter’s field’ where those who chose they’re own time and place to die, have gone to hell. god wouldn’t want his flock to associate with those who toss the gift of life away. i prefer this outlook. makes sense.

    1. No one is advocating stigma about *suicide* here. Here’s one of the core problems: *Lots* of people feel their “time has come” – want to commit suicide because they are suffering and they don’t believe their lives have much worth any more. However, it’s only in the case of old, ill and disabled people that policies are being promoted to facilitate their suicides, based on the shared belief that those lives do indeed lack value. Public policy like that isn’t about honoring autonomy, but built upon bigotry and discrimination.

  3. I came across this website by accident but glad it exists. I am an intractable pain patient and appalled by the effort that is being made by states to restrict opoid use when the states that made such strict laws have assisted suicide laws.

    I encourage everyone to read the criteria that is needed to have approved assisted suicide (you don’t even have to have pain) which is less than getting medication therapy that has the same criteria.

    In other words, you can go get approved for assisted suicide because you have a long term disorder or disease that is terminal and will end in death, but you may be denied opoid therapy because of concerned health officials that say drug seekers and abusers are overdosing to easy.

    With to the board members of Washington State Members who have made media presentations and the ones that were on a CBS health presentation because they lost members of their family, their family members misused the medications when clear labeling states what not to do.

    The examples included a son who had mental problems and had been hospitalized before and the Mother even stated she noted changes that week and her being a medical doctor should have had him commited since he displayed a harm to himself (which is an involuntary commitment and mental health officers are on call 24/7)

    Another example was a Father who spoke of his wonderful son who was so successful and the “devil” opoids took his life. When a self revealed information stated he got the opoids by lying about a condition and drinking along with them. This is labeled on the medical insert and on the bottle not to drink, the medication causes respiratory depression, and gives instruction.

    Another example was a girl with cancer that was given ONE opoid by a friend and it caused her death.

    This is a hard subject to address as I want to respect the family’s loss but where is the accountability of the person who choses to abuse the medication.

    Do I have to suffer more pain so that their misplaced grief is directed at a medication that helps me have a quality of life ? Do I have to travel to Washington State or Oregon and get two bottles of barbituates to ingest so that I have respiratory distress and suffocate to death ?

    Do the grief that me being in increased pain and suffer more make them feel better about them changes the laws ? Do they realize how many legitimate pain sufferers are being harmed because Doctors are afraid of prosecuted ?

    With respect with choosing your own death, go ahead, God doesn’t care and no where in the Bible is suicide an unforgiven sin.

    What are your going to do when your pain medication are limited and you are so much in pain your choice is sooner than you wanted as you want to be out of pain ? There is merit that the choice to choose assisted suicide has been based on untreated depression, financial hardship (disease costs are too much), and illogical thinking.

    I have thought many of time I am a burden and wished I was gone. Then I think of my husband and son, and my Faith. What I choose to deal with my terminal condition (aren’t all of us going to die someday and we know not when ) to include of doing one small thing for others around me, makes my life worthwhile.

    The sad thing is that a society that cannot reach out to those that are thinking of assisted suicide and making sure it really is a validated choice or is it going to be a item on a list to choose from, treat someone with opoids or assisted suicide ? Treat someone who wants to live or administer assisted suicide (their are people who have guardians or Power of Attorneys that would make that choice for financial gain), administer suicide because they are costing the government too much in financial aid.

    Do not think I am a fanatic about this subject and my examples unreal, it already happens.

    Washington State passed their law last year on restricted dosages and treatment with opoids to include prosecution of Doctors who use the PDR (Physician Desk References) that has been a Physican’s tool for decades.

    Thank you for your organization and I will follow your website and pass it on to my pain support group. There are many, many, patients that have lost their pain doctors who are stopping prescribing opoids for legitimate reasons.

    There are many factors to address that are being missed and supporters of assisted suicide should be aware of and respectful and make sure one group is not harmed with misconception.

    I would like to think those that choose their right to die are not concerned about what people think as many choices in life carries “stigma” but are the right choice for the person making it.

    I wonder why people who are choosing suicide (assisted or not) because the assisted requires the person to take the medication, do not realize they can take medication anytime to “choose their time”. Those who make it a stigma are going to whether assisted or not.

    I wish for anyone who has a terminal condition, peace. I want to be able to have a quality of life and not have something that helped me removed me because of prejudice and ignorance.

    From a person who is disabled and also with a terminal condition.

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