I never thought I would be using a Marvel movie to explain why Conservative Government policy is so wrong-headed on disability, but we live in interesting times.
The new film Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch of Sherlock fame, is about a neurosurgeon who loses his ability to perform operations after a road accident and gets thrown on the scrap heap of US medicine.
The Washington Post article quoted below, by Alyssa Rosenberg, states that Strange’s mentality follows the common view that people who become disabled “will either have to live with diminished expectations or find relief through suicide”.
That is the view of the UK’s Conservative Government: “Can’t do what you used to? Find something else to do that won’t make as much money – or top yourself. We won’t pay for you to mope about feeling sorry for yourself.”
It’s chequebook euthanasia – as I have explained many times before.
What the Tory Government doesn’t do – and never will – is acknowledge that people might need time to find another way; that becoming disabled may open up new possibilities that they had not thought to explore.
Nor does the Tory benefit system encourage people to experiment in any way. You can go on one of the DWP’s forced-work programmes, you can find a job for yourself, or you can give up the benefits they so grudgingly provide – often for an extremely limited time period.
For many people, the imposition of the last option has triggered despair and death – for exactly the reasons laid out by Ms Rosenberg. They are no longer physically perfect so it is better to end their own lives and cease being a burden on their nearest and dearest.
It seems Doctor Strange is offering an alternative way of thinking – and about time too.
Strangely (ha ha!) enough, I was mentioning something similar to an acquaintance who is having to get to grips with the onset of a disabling condition and has reported feelings of uselessness.
Having had experience of this with the famous Mrs Mike, I said that this person would need to come to terms with the fact that they won’t be able to do the same things – at least not as quickly as they’re used to doing them.
But this need not be a disadvantage. As a writer, it means this person has more ‘thinking’ time. Mrs Mike has recently returned to needlework after a long period believing she could not do anything; it takes her much, much longer but the quality of her work is higher.
Neither would be able to concentrate on these new possibilities if they were left to the tender ministrations of the DWP.
It would be inappropriate forced-labour followed by the gutter, or the gutter straight away.
It is welcome to see a major movie that says there is an alternative.
In “Doctor Strange,” … the most interesting part of Strange’s journey involves his evolution from one perspective on his body to another.
Neurosurgeon Stephen Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) journey is intimately related to his sense of what his body is capable of. Following a car accident caused in part by his hubris… he bemoans the state of his hands after his surgeons were through with him.
In the early going, Strange’s mentality mirrors one common to many Hollywood productions: that we are the sum of our bodies, and that people who become disabled in some capacity will either have to live with diminished expectations or find relief through suicide.
Strange’s training [in magic] is explicitly oriented toward helping him understand that his mind isn’t limited by his body. It takes an enforced jaunt to Everest, and the example of Hamir, … who does not have a left hand, to suggest to Strange that his sense of the possible is woefully limited.
I … found myself unexpectedly touched by a moment toward the end of the movie in which Strange contemplated his scarred, still-shaking hands and chose not to direct his magic toward healing them. In a culture that treats physical perfection as synonymous with happiness and achievement, it was affecting to watch Strange choose to live with the pins in his hands and the cracks in the watch that is his most precious possession.
And in a culture that often suggests the most logical response to disability is to choose death, Strange’s ability to see strength and possibility in his hands is its own kind of magic.
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