Mike ErvinThere are a lot of news items and Hollywood movie scripts where the story goes like this:

Crippled person thinks being crippled really sucks so he/she expresses a wish to die. The community rallies around said cripple in the name of staunchly defending his/her right to make this “dignified choice.” Cripple dies a beautiful death. The end

But there aren’t a lot of news items, and definitely no Hollywood movie scripts, where the story goes like this:

Crippled person thinks being crippled really sucks but he/she doesn’t want to die. The thing that sucks most about being crippled, this cripple thinks, is that in order to get your butt wiped every day you have to move into a stinkin’ damn nursing home. The cripple expresses a wish for there to be a publicly-funded community support network through which cripples can live in the community with everybody else and hire friends and neighbors to be their butt wipers of choice.  The community rallies around said cripple in the name of staunchly defending his/her right to make this “dignified choice.” Historic federal legislation is passed creating a nationwide, publicly-funded community support network and all the cripples move out of nursing homes. The end

Wow, imagine if Hollywood was to make a movie based on the butt wiping scenario. Who would play the crippled protagonist? Tom Hanks? Julia Roberts? But it’s a waste of time even thinking about it because it ain’t never gonna happen no how. It would be a box office disaster. The suicide scenario has a nice, easy-to-follow dramatic arc: The story of a handicapped man’s bold quest to die with dignity. But the dramatic arc for the butt wiping scenario is all zig-zaggy and complicated:  The story of a handicapped man’s bold quest to get his butt wiped.

Plus, it brings up a topic polite society is very uncomfortable discussing publicly, which is wiping the butts of cripples. Polite society is much more comfortable publicly discussing how to help cripples die.

Yeah, that butt wiping scenario is all sunny and idealistic and all, but Hollywood fantasy doesn’t work that way. Reality doesn’t work that way either. If cripples want to die, there are plenty of well-funded groups with names like The Compassionate Choice that are eager to help turn our death wish into reality, like ghoulish travel agents. But there is no such dedicated volunteer brigade ready to answer the SOS calls of cripples who just want to get their butts wiped.

Maybe someday our culture will evolve to the point where there are well-funded organizations with butt wiping as their mission. They will have names like Choice and Compassion. Or maybe there will be a new government volunteer service program mobilizing citizens for that same hygienic purpose. It can be something like Americorp. University campuses would be fertile recruiting grounds. I’ve even got a catchy recruitment pitch: Sign up for a two-year stint after graduation and “wipe away your college debt.” This butt wiping service corps could also be used as an innovative prison work release program. Serve on a community butt-wiping crew and earn points for good behavior. I think it beats the hell out of working on a chain gang, though not everyone will agree.

But again, reality doesn’t work  that way.

If you’re looking for someone to grant your death wish, you’ll find plenty of sympathizers. But the best bet for many cripples who are looking for someone to grant their butt wiping wish is to rub the hell out of an oil lamp and hope a genie emerges. But even then the genie will probably say, “Uh, sorry, but that’s one thing I won’t do. It’s too yucky. But how about I give you a pony instead?”

And forget about asking Santa Claus for that kind of help. He’s got to draw the line somewhere, too. You’ll probably get further asking him to smother you.
The least polite society can do for all the cripples, both real and fictional, who want to have their public death wish fulfilled, is present them with an award for sportsmanship. Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re being good sports. They allow everyone to continue to avoid having a national dialogue about butt wiping, which is a very sporting thing to do.

If these sportsmanship awards are presented with enough high-profile pomp and circumstance, it may convince other cripples to be good sports, too.