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Vincent Lambert case update

Things are looking grim again for Vincent Lambert, the Frenchman whose wife and some other relatives have been trying to have him dehydrated to death for approximately six years. Thanks to the persistence of Vincent's mother Viviane and her lawyers, Vincent has been rescued from more than one attempt at killing him and is still being fed and dehydrated years after others would have given up.

But now the Supreme Court of France (as I understand it) has ratified the decision of doctors to dehydrate Vincent to death. It's important to understand that the legal situation is somewhat different from that of Terri Schiavo. As I understand it, the matter is left in the hands of the doctors. This is why the Committee to Support Vincent Lambert has tried to get him transferred, but those attempts have been unsuccessful. (A transfer might also have resulted in Vincent's receiving some physical therapy in order to renew or maintain his ability to swallow and be fed by mouth. Expert opinions differ on whether he is in a minimally conscious state or a so-called "vegetative" state, but it is not implausible that he could have profited from some therapy which he has not received while his wife has been attempting to have him killed all these years.) In Terri's case, a court actually ordered the nursing home to withdraw Terri's food and water. The French court apparently has merely allowed this. Doctors could still quite legally make a different decision.

The lawyers trying to save Vincent have obtained an unenforceable ruling from the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that Vincent should continue to receive food and water while that committee carries out its own investigation of his case. The French health minister said that this ruling, though not legally binding, would be honored.

But the doctor presiding over Vincent's case is apparently of another mind. Dr. Sanchez of the hospital in Rheims has said that he will withdraw Vincent's food and water beginning on May 20. Perhaps he thinks that the UN committee investigation will be over by then and will favor his decision? Or perhaps he just intends to go ahead regardless.

Even if those who intend to kill Vincent succeed this time around, he has been saved for several years by the valiant efforts of his mother and her lawyers. They should never feel that their work has all been in vain or that we should regard Vincent as if he is already dead. The differences in the legal situation, too, make this a relevant case to follow. If the doctors were not so determined to kill him, or if these particular doctors did not have jurisdiction over him, matters would be far different. No court has actually decreed his death. And the very fact that his case is receiving this much publicity means that, if he is killed, this will be a turning point for France. Say what you will, the French do not appear to be entirely blase, yet, to dehydrating people to death. In this regard they may be somewhat less desensitized than Americans and very likely less hard-hearted than the Belgians and Dutch, who rather frequently engage in active euthanasia even against children.

Let us pray for Vincent and his mother and the lawyers fighting for him.

On a related note, readers of W4 will be interested in this debate between the pagan but sometimes insightful Douglas Murray and an advocate of fully legal active euthanasia in the UK. (My understanding of the euthanasia legal situation in the UK presently is this: Officially active euthanasia is illegal, though plenty of people are passively dehydrated to death, as in the U.S. However, the prosecutors have more or less officially stated that they don't consider it "in the public interest" to prosecute active euthanasia carried out by drug overdose if it is well-intentioned. Hence, in practice, active euthanasia is legal in the UK, because it is not prosecuted. Apparently that isn't enough for some, who want it formally legalized. Fun fact: If you are a big fan of Roger Scruton, you should know that Scruton advocated that the law turn a blind eye to active mercy killing/euthanasia in the UK well before it actually happened. He regarded people who live too long as living "without love.")

Murray strongly opposes the euthanasia advocate in this dialogue. One point that I found very interesting was this: Sam Leith, the euthanasia advocate, goes on and on about the rights and autonomy of the individual, as if this is what legal euthanasia is all about. But at the same time he seems not the least bit fazed by the fact that if euthanasia is legal according to the policy he advocates, people will be euthanized who do not want to die! And not by accident, either, but rather by the successful operation of the policy. This is because he apparently favors a policy in which you can order ahead of time that you be actively euthanized if you come to be in such-and-such a state and cannot then express your wishes. Leith, quite simply, doesn't care. He listens to Douglas Murray pointing out that people will be killed who don't want to die and calmly says, "There is a considerable philosophical discussion here, about how much your present self can bind your future self." Is there, now? How nice. One has to love Murray's icy little comment, "What a beautiful slogan" about "Making death easier to access." Here's part of the dialogue:

Sam: If people are going to do it anyway, they should be allowed to do it here in a way that… Douglas: Makes death easier to access. Sam: Make death easier to access, exactly. Douglas: What a beautiful slogan. Sam: A consumer point. Douglas: It’s not unwise to make these things harder than they need to be, rather than easier. I once spoke to a euthanasia doctor about his terminally ill patients. Many suffer from degenerative illnesses which mean that they cannot sign the form to die when they are at their worst. They sign it in advance which is not dissimilar to what’s being suggested here. I asked this doctor, how can you be sure further down the line that you are definitely killing — or however one wants to euphemise that… Sam: Euphemise, euthanise. Douglas: …that you are killing them and they want to die? And he said, I can’t be sure. I asked, do you think you have ever euthanised somebody who didn’t actually want to die and he said yes, I’m certain of it. I’m sure we both know of elderly relatives and friends who are at the end of their lives. Quite often they will say ‘I don’t want to get to X stage’ and they are absolutely certain they will never get to X stage and if they ever got near X stage they would be flying off to Switzerland. But then they get to X stage and the stage beyond and they still want to live. Sam: These are hard cases. There is a considerable philosophical discussion here, about how much your present self can bind your future self. Douglas: Can you imagine lying in a bed, not wanting to die, but knowing that you will because you once signed a form, which the state is now enforcing?

Can you imagine, indeed. And so much for the rights of the individual. Sorry, person who doesn't want to die, I guess you fell on the wrong side of that "considerable philosophical debate" and are now bound by the decision of your past self.

Choice devours itself. This is just a hint, just a clue, that it was wrong in the first place to make death easier to access.

Comments (2)

Yes, it does seem that when the legal arrangement, and the philosophical underpinnings, explicitly give more weight to an earlier desire to die, and less weight to a later desire not to die, the mask slips and the consumming aspect of the culture of death rears its ugly head and its wide maw. One wonders whether the Withers, Frost, and Hardcastle blokes "in charge" (for the moment) will ever quite experience the horror of their theories when the functionaries come for them, or will only experience it after death when they enjoy the hospitality of Screwtape and his cohort. Is there a fundamental lack in them of the mental/emotional capacity to consider themselves in the very same position where they said they would rather die than have X, but when push comes to shove they don't ACTUALLY feel that way now that X is here? So much for bleeding-heart sympathy.

But what makes me most appalled is not the cases where the "authorities" act, on "principle" (as they see it) that the patient's own expressed will (earlier) is controlling, but the cases where the authorities insist on the patient dying in order to "ration resources" and then refuse to relinquish the patient to the care of someone else (even, some other country) willing to expend their own resources to keep him alive.

Is there a fundamental lack in them of the mental/emotional capacity to consider themselves in the very same position where they said they would rather die than have X, but when push comes to shove they don't ACTUALLY feel that way now that X is here? So much for bleeding-heart sympathy.

In many cases there is a really twisted kind of pseudo-rationality going on. It goes something like this, "It would really be rational for me to die in that circumstance, so even though I can imagine being upset by it, this would just be because I would have a false, irrational sense of what was really best." In other words, they think of themselves in that situation rather as a sane person would think of someone being *restrained* from killing himself when he desired to--it's going against his will, but his will is warped. They literally just flip that mentally and apply it to the person who wants to live when it would be "better" for him to die.

the cases where the authorities insist on the patient dying in order to "ration resources" and then refuse to relinquish the patient to the care of someone else (even, some other country) willing to expend their own resources to keep him alive.

Macho utilitarianism uber alles. We have determined that it is better for the universal common good if so-and-so dies, so we shall insist that he die rather than that you irrational weirdos spend money you shouldn't spend to keep him alive.

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