Still Alice: Moral Abnegation


I was so prepared to like Lisa Genova’s *Still Alice*. I come from a family with Alzheimer’s disease. I’m fascinated by questions around euthanasia – when is not only morally right, but a moral right in and of itself? I found the idea of a novel narrated from the third person limited perspective of an Alzheimer’s patient (though how incredible would that first person narrative be?) compelling on its own terms: offering a voice to the people afflicted with a disease that renders them – or subjects them to voicelessness. 

And for the first two thirds of the novel I played along. Sure I took issue with the cinematic qualities of the narrative that screamed ‘MAKE ME INTO AN OSCAR WORTHY SCREENPLAY’ and the unidimensional cast of supporting characters (family members). But I was intrigued by Alice’s (albeit narratively superficial) attempts to make sense of a changing identity: and a violent forced change at that.

Where I lost respect for the novel as a social enterprise interested in asking what the rights of an Alzheimer’s patient might be (or anyone cognitively impaired) was in the singular dismissal of Alice’s express wishes to end her life when she lost her ability to identify herself as a self. Don’t mistake me – it’s not that I’m unhappy that she was kept alive (though I *am* unhappy that she was kept alive) my complaint is one with the narrative: rather than engage with her request, with this question about right-to-death, the narrative – in one tidy slip between chapters – forgets (!) to even ask the question: should we as a family kill Alice? Do we owe it to her sense of self, to her identity, to her wishes, to let her die? to assist her in her death? Nothing. Just a skip between paragraphs and she’s happy as a mindless, identity-less clam.


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