‘Me Before You’ Sparks Questions About Switzerland’s Dignitas [Spoilers]

While Jojo Moyes’ bestselling novel Me Before You was published in 2012, it recently reappeared in headlines because of the upcoming movie led by Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin. One of the recurring themes in the book is the existence of Dignitas, an association in Switzerland known for its campaigns for “deaths with dignity.”

In Me Before You, a wealthy and venturesome Will Traynor was left paralyzed after an accident. The newly released extended Me Before You trailer shows that tragic scene. The trailer also gives a glimpse of how Will loved extreme sports prior to being wheelchair-bound. He meets Louisa Clark, a caregiver his mother hired for him.

Their relationship starts rocky, but Louisa’s blithesome disposition eventually delights the previously sarcastic Will. The trailer features several romantic scenes, including Will’s confession that Louisa’s the reason why he wants to wake up every morning.

As early as now, people are already labeling Me Before You as a tearjerker film reminiscent of Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook. However, what sets Moyes’ novel apart is its inclusion of Dignitas in the story. Some readers have commented that they only found out about the group because of the book.

On its website, the 1988-founded organization describes itself as a non-profit group that provides “counseling on questions regarding life and death without tabooing, paternalism, and stigmatization.”

“The organisation, which pursues no commercial interests whatsoever, has in accordance with its constitution the objective of ensuring a life and a death with dignity for its members and of allowing other people to benefit from these values.”

Dignitas does not nonchalantly accept people knocking on its doors asking to have a dose of the lethal barbiturates. An interested individual has to submit documentation including medical certificates justifying his or her desire to end their life. As per Dignitas, the process typically takes 3-4 months from the person’s first contact until his or her actual visit to Switzerland.

The group also sheds light on how it approves a person’s request for accompanied suicide.

“This is very difficult, a lengthy and complex proceeding with many obstacles and there is no guarantee to receive the ‘provisional green light’ for an accompanied suicide. It depends much on the quality of the medical file: clear diagnosis of the illness, description of its cause and development, proof of all therapies tried (with or without success) plus an in-depth psychiatric appraisal concerning the capacity of judgement and discernment in regard of the wish for a self-determined end of life, also confirming that this wish is not a symptom of the psychiatric illness but a well-considered balance decision.”

People with terminal illnesses are usually the ones who go to Dignitas, and some have been publicized throughout the years. In 2011, hotelier Peter Smedley, who was suffering from an incurable motor neuron disease, opted to share his story through Terry Pratchett’s BBC documentary, Choosing to Die. Smedley’s final moments in Dignitas were filmed by the crew.

In Me Before You, Will considers Dignitas as a mean to end his suffering as a quadriplegic man. Apart from being unable to do the things he loved, he also feared the inevitable medical complications that came with his condition. However, that decision was before Louisa entered his life. Whether Will pursues his decision or not is something to be found out when the film premieres on June 3.

Me Before You‘s screenplay was also penned by Moyes. Other stars included in the film are Harry Potter‘s Matthew Lewis as Louisa’s boyfriend, Doctor Who‘s Jenna Coleman as Louisa’s sister, Game of Thrones‘ Charles Dance as Will’s father, and Allegiant’s Janet McTeer as Will’s mother.

[Image via Me Before You film poster]