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Is "Million Dollar Baby" Dangerous?


"Million Dollar Baby," director Clint Eastwood's film about a scrappy female boxer (Hilary Swank) and her trainer (Eastwood), snuck in under the Oscar wire and has been winning critics' awards and industry plaudits ever since. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, the film won four: Best Supporting Actor for Morgan Freeman, Best Actress for Swank, Best Director for Eastwood, and Best Picture.

But "Million Dollar Baby" is far from universally beloved. The film has raised a great deal of controversy over a theme that, while a vital part of the film, has been underplayed in its marketing campaign and carefully skirted in reviews. It's impossible to talk about the controversy and why it is of interest to parents of children with special needs without giving that secret away, so if you have not seen the movie and wish to do so unspoiled, STOP READING NOW before major plot points are revealed.

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At issue is the film's depiction of assisted suicide. When the fighter portrayed by Swank receives a sucker punch in the ring, she is paralyzed from the neck down. Unwilling to live that way, she begs Eastwood's character to help her die, and finally, after much soul-searching, he does.

Attacks on the film have come from two directions. Conservative commentators like Michael Medved and Rush Limbaugh have complained that the film sneaks a right-to-die agenda into what appears to be a feel-good, triumph-over-adversity boxing picture, and argued that audiences have a right to know about that before they see the film -- or send their children to the PG-13 offering. Supporters of the film, particularly Roger Ebert, have countered that critics have no right to reveal important plot details, and lambasted Medved and others for doing so.

Also criticizing the film have been disability activists, who feel that its depiction of the assisted suicide of a paralyzed character encourages a "better dead than disabled" point of view that could ultimately be harmful to the rights of the disabled to live and work and receive accommodations and appropriate services. They are distrustful of Eastwood and his intentions, since the actor/director battled against the Americans with Disabilities Act in recent years over requirements to make a resort he was remodeling handicapped-accessible.

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