Ken Harrison (Richard Dreyfuss), a 32-year-old sculptor and art teacher, lies in a hospital bed paralyzed from the neck down. His spinal chord was ruptured in a car accident. His vital functions are now controlled by machines. When he learns from Dr. Emerson (John Cassavetes) that he will never walk again or gain the use of his arms and hands, Ken decides to terminate his relationship with Pat (Janet Eilber), a dancer. Never being able to work again as a sculptor nor make love change his perspective on living. The patient resolves to find a way of being discharged from the hospital so he can die.
In the intensive care unit, Ken makes his presence known with a nonstop barrage of one-liners about his sexual incapacity and his vegetable-like-condition. Nurse Rodriguez (Alba Oms) mothers him while Mary Jo (Kaki Hunter), a pretty, young trainee, turns him on. John (Thomas Carter), an orderly with a free spirit, a love of rock music, and a good sense of humor, is the only one who really connects with Ken's concerns.
Trapped in his bed with cameras monitoring his condition day and night, Ken hires Carter Hill (Bob Balaban), a lawyer, to help him fight the medical establishment for the right to end his life. Dr. Emerson maintains Ken is too depressed to make a rational decision. Dr. Scott (Christine Lahti) starts out agreeing with her colleague but is won over by Ken in the end. Two psychiatrists examine the patient, and a judge makes a final determination on whether or not he can legally be forced to stay in the hospital for treatment.
Whose Life Is It Anyway? is based on Brian Clark's long-running Broadway and London stage hit. It is directed by John Badham from a screenplay by Brian Clark and Reginald Rose. Richard Dreyfuss puts in a high caliber performance as Ken Harrison. Only moving his head, the actor vividly conveys the former sculptor's anger, frustration, loneliness, sarcasm, and desperate humor. The supporting cast are all exceptionally fine as well.
The rapid development of new medical life-support systems coupled with the determination of more individuals to take responsibility for the way they die has raised many complex ethical issues. Whose Life Is It Anyway? gives viewers an opportunity to test their attitudes toward life, death, and the significant choices that must be made in regard to both.