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Peter T. Chattaway


Ending It

Mercy killing at the movies.

It might be possible, C. S. Lewis suggested, to create a decent theology based on nothing more than dirty jokes; of all the animals, only human beings seem to find something strange or unnatural about their bodily functions, and this, in turn, may be a clue not only to our spiritual natures, but also to the fallenness that has impaired the relationship between our spiritual and animal natures. Could something similar be said about a phenomenon like suicide? As far as we know, human beings are the only animals that consciously choose to end their own lives, and in this, we may see evidence of the freedom and self-knowledge which are ours as beings imprinted with the image of God. Paradoxically, it is our very ability to negate the breath of life that indicates God once breathed it into us.

Million Dollar Baby, which won Academy Awards for picture, director, and two of its co-stars, kicked up a firestorm of debate with its surprise third-act twist. For its first hour and a half, the film seems like a Rocky-style movie about a scrappy young boxer, Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), who rises to the top of the boxing world under the reluctant sponsorship of a trainer named Frankie Dunn (played by director Clint Eastwood). But then an illegal punch thrown by one of Maggie's opponents, combined with an unfortunately placed stool, breaks Maggie's neck and turns her into a quadriplegic who will be hooked up to a respirator for the rest of her life. As her body wastes away, forcing the amputation of one of her legs, Maggie asks Frankie to kill her, just as her father once killed their similarly crippled family dog. Despite the warnings of his ineffectual priest, Frankie does as Maggie wishes.

Much of the debate has swirled around whether the film "promotes" euthanasia. Films tend to glamorize whatever they portray, simply by focusing our attention on it and giving it big-screen treatment, and this tendency may be even more pronounced when the actions onscreen are performed by famous ...

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