He could breathe without a respirator. He could look into a camera. He could eat and drink, and, as his mother said, he needed to be loved.
Vincent Lambert is dead, at 42, at least in part because his wife fought for his right to die, and her right to exercise lethal judgment on his behalf. (She said that her husband had expressed a preference to die rather than be kept alive in such a state.) While euthanasia is presently illegal in France, a medical determination can be made to withdraw essential life support. That determination was made, it was legally upheld, and his hydration and feeding tubes were withdrawn. He died yesterday morning.
Some of the people who knew and loved him fought hard for his right to live. His Catholic parents and siblings argued that he was not “a vegetable” but a creature of much greater dignity — a creature they knew intimately, surely recalling a thousand memories of his infancy, toddlerhood, schooldays, as well as his professional and personal advances as an adult. Every time they caressed his face or stroked his hair in the hospital bed, they were surely not just thinking about the memories they enjoyed with their son, but also recognizing the sheer goodness of his existence.
Usually the “death-with-dignity” campaigns have at their heart the drama of some terminally-ill patient making what is inevitably and deceitfully called a “selfless and heroic” decision to end their own life. Usually the act is defended as some final kind of courageous and promethean self-determination. And if one thinks that the human person is nothing other than a sovereign will — the heart turned in on itself — many a darkened intellect will be confused about why a person can’t exercise their sovereign will to die like this, blind as they are to reality.
Yet Vincent Lambert did not die in a typical “death-with-dignity” campaign, since at the heart of his drama was not the self-determining sovereign will freely choosing self-destruction. In this case, we find the sovereign wills of a wife and of a state working together to deprive a man of the good of existence, against the will of the two people who cooperated with God to bring Vincent into existence, namely his mother and father. This was a complex cooperation of wills working towards a common end: ending the life of a vulnerable human being.
This is a more terrifying scenario than the typical “death-with-dignity” campaign because it clearly moves beyond the tyranny of the heart turned against itself, to a state which exerts lethal power over a vulnerable person, indeed a person who cannot even exercise their will at all.
Lebensunwertes Leben was the technical designation for those Untermenschen that, during the Third Reich, were considered unworthy of the right to life. What sort of liberty is it which provides a state with the power to judge who is worthy of life, and who is unworthy of life? That is something very like an idolatrous power. The bereft wife, the doctors in the white lab coats, the functionaries of the administrative state, were each involved in this determination of a “life unworthy of life.”
Pope Francis commented on Twitter yesterday: “May God the Father welcome Vincent Lambert in His arms. Let us not build a civilization that discards persons those whose lives we no longer consider to be worthy of living: every life is valuable, always.”
Cardinal Sarah added that Vincent Lambert died a “martyr” and a “victim of the terrifying madness of the people of our time.”
What have you done, France? Can you not see that your common good is intimately and inextricably united to the goodness of Vincent Lambert? Can you not see that in judging some lives to be “unworthy of life,” you inscribe into the whole the evil you have done to the part?