"Maggie" could have led a fruitful and enjoyable life.
Disability advocates claim the movie was a pro-euthanasia message. Certainly by law Swank could have simply asked her doctor to take her off life support. Instead, Eastwoods character breaks the law in bypassing the doctor and changing the action from passive to active. That does sound like a message.
John Kelly of Boston calls the film "a lie." Hes not a film critic, but he knows something about the subject. "When I was 21 I was sledding on a piece of cardboard down a hill and a tree jumped up in front," he told me. Hes now paralyzed from the neck down. "Im everybodys worst nightmare," he says chuckling.
Now 41, Kelly is one of the approximately 11,000 new spinal cord injuries in the U.S. each year. Of these, about a fifth lead to quadriplegia. But technology continually makes it easier for such persons to lead enjoyable and productive lives.
Mobility is vital and at a single website you can find 55 different models of power wheelchairs, the descriptions of which resemble sports car reviews. They discuss horsepower, speed, turning radius, how high an object they can surmount. One has "Six wheels on the ground [to] provide superior stability and a smoother ride," while another has tank-like treads for off-road driving. The iBOT wheelchair climbs and descends stairs.
Communication is also vital, aided now by tremendously-improved voice-activated software. It allows writing books, surfing the web, using the phone, and – O, joy! – even paying bills. Voice-activated e-mail allows quadriplegics the same opportunity to read and write letters and receive spam as the rest of us.
All of these technologies were invented or vastly improved since Christopher Reeves accident. Moving higher up the tech ladder, new "functional electrical stimulation" (FES) devices implanted in the body can restore some hand movement and allow those with spinal cord injury (SCI) to feed themselves. Maggie could have used an FES that assists with breathing, freeing many quadriplegics from the ventilator.
Weve also greatly improved our knowledge of physical rehabilitation for recently-injured persons. "If I could have talked to Maggie," says Kelly, "Id say Were going to take you to a real rehab center with other people with spinal cord injuries and a gung-ho staff to help with physical therapy as well as being able to treat your depression."
Technology for spinal cord injury victims improves each year. This iBot climbs stairs.
Yet for those with older injuries, even complete spinal regeneration would require tremendous rehabilitation to get atrophied body parts moving again says Marcie Roth, executive director of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association. Roth thinks many SCI patients wouldnt find it worthwhile. "These people have grown accustomed to their lives and many wouldnt want to change them," she says.
After his accident, Kelly got a masters degree in sociology at Brandeis University. "I can do lights, appliances, air conditioning, make phone calls, and control the television." He says, "Sometimes I watch TV and work on the computer at one time like any multitasking American and its fun! I go shopping like anybody else. I really enjoy cooking. I enjoy music and can control my stereo (a jukebox-type variety that holds hundreds of CDs) with my wheelchair."
Adds Kelly, "Its annoying to have to say my life is good in order for people to stop thinking Id be better off dead. But I love my life and everything in it," he says.
Maggie might have ended up feeling the same way – if only the script hadnt killed her off.
Read Michael Fumentos additional work on stem cells.