In 2008, Vincent Lambert suffered an accident that left him paraplegic and semi-conscious. Since then, Lambert, who although he suffered severe brain damage still responds when spoken to and regularly wakes up, has been kept alive on life support. This week, a high French court ruled that Lambert should be denied food and water and allowed to die, a process that could take up to two weeks.
Although Lambert’s wife supports letting him die, his Catholic parents and siblings, along with the Vatican, are fighting to keep him alive. Although euthanasia is illegal in France, doctors and the courts have found this horrific work-around. Instead of administering drugs to kill a patient who isn’t dying, they just starve them to death, as U.S. judges allowed in the case of Floridian Terri Schiavo. This practice is an affront to the dignity of human life, and one that Americans must be alert to, lest it reoccur in our country.
At issue here is nothing less than the very value of human life. Increasingly in Europe, it is all the rage for the state to decide which lives are and aren’t worth living. The fact that a man who still has brain function and is responsive can even be considered for such a barbaric form of execution should shock any decent person to his core.
None of us can know what Lambert is experiencing — if he dreams, if unsummoned memories flood his mind, if he can feel love when his mother speaks to him. To callously decide that his life is no longer worth living represents a cynical and dystopian view of both life and state power that runs counter to the Christian foundations of Western civilization.
The more acceptable this disdain for life becomes, the more the goalposts move regarding whom the state can kill. If a responsive person in a semi-vegetative state can be killed, then why can’t someone with a severe mental disability? After all, what kind of life can such a person have? Maybe we should just take a page from Jonathan Swift and kill children living in poverty — after all, what chance do they have?
The entire moral universe that sits at the center of the human experience is based on a simple equation: Life is better than death. There is a reason Dylan Thomas wrote, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” instead of, “Hey, maybe you’re better off just letting go and slipping into eternal darkness.” Life is a good that requires no explanation. That’s because life is the prerequisite for good, and evil, and everything.
Whether it is life in the womb or life in the hospital bed, we must choose life. Everyone who has ever mourned wished for just a few more moments, just a few more words. He wished to have a moment longer to live with the person who died. That’s because life is its own sacred manifestation of phenomenon, its own importance.
We must resist with all possible weapons the normalization of killing people who aren’t dying. We must fight against this cult of death.