France is about to lose respect

Writing in Le Figaro, the novelist Michel Houellebecq put it in a nutshell: “A civilisation that legalises euthanasia loses every right to respect.”

A lost cause, Mr Houellebecq, but a noble one

In addition to being correct, this statement is topical. L’Assemblée Nationale, the French parliament, is this week debating this very issue. I don’t know if that body listens to public opinion, but if it does, the motion is likely to pass.

For 96 per cent of France’s population are in favour of legalisation, preferring assisted suicide to physical suffering. The supporters of euthanasia cite ‘compassion’ and ‘dignity’ as arguments in favour, and Houellebecq is merciless to them.

Whenever compassion is invoked, he writes, “the lies are palpable”. And with dignity, “they become even more insidious”.

Dignity is increasingly understood as a capacity to act, with any loss of the latter spelling diminution in the former. This, writes Houellebecq, veers far away from Kant’s definition of dignity as a moral, rather than physical, concept. In fact, morality doesn’t seem to enter into the argument at all.

Fair enough, the Catholics, as well as the Jews and the Muslims, oppose euthanasia, but Mr Houellebecq correctly thinks they’ll lose this argument, as they’ve lost all others. In any case, the media close ranks and refuse to report any religious objections.

With this article, and many others he has written on this subject, Houellebecq has entered into my good books, a distinction his novels failed to earn. In fact, until a few years ago I hadn’t even heard his name, which, according to my French friends, punched a gaping hole in my erudition.

At first, I thought they were talking about the writer’s near homophone, the English centre forward Danny Welbeck. Since none of them was known as an ardent football fan, I was quite taken aback. Having at last realised the depth of my ignorance, I then tried to redeem myself by reading a few of Houellebecq’s novels.

I found out that, on balance, I still preferred Danny Welbeck. The novels struck me as floridly overwritten, rather gynaecological pornography with some astute social observations drowned in pseudo-philosophical musings. Then again, Houellebecq can’t help being French.

However, even in his novels one can only detect lapses of taste, never those of intellect. He is undoubtedly an intelligent man, which he showed yet again in this article, unencumbered as it is by the slightly forced artistry of his novels.

Mr Houellebecq is distinctly unimpressed with the examples of euthanasia provided by the countries where it is already legal, namely Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg. He doesn’t specify what it is in particular that fails to impress him, but such things must be numerous.

Doctors in the Benelux countries have been vested with divine power over life and death. In Holland, some 6,000 people were euthanised last year, and Dutch health officials proudly announced that 92 per cent of them were terminally ill.

However, if my arithmetic serves me right, that means that some 500 people were killed simply because they didn’t feel like living any longer. And even that requirement wasn’t always observed.

One woman, for example, first stated her desire to die, but then changed her mind. She was killed anyway – no self-reprieves are allowed. The doctor involved actually went on trial, but the tendency is unmistakable. In any case, the doctor was only charged with not following proper bureaucratic procedure, not murder.

Houellebecq realises that in due course any restrictions on euthanasia will disappear one by one. It’s clear to him, as it should be to any sensible person, that, once euthanasia has become legal, sooner or later it’ll become compulsory, with the state deciding who deserves to live and who must die.

This is what happens when man no longer recognises absolute morality given by an authority infinitely higher than any human institution. Kant’s categorical imperative is a poor substitute, and the humanist morality of anthropocentrism is no substitute at all.

It’s a harrowing thought that the birthplace of Catholic scholasticism, a country whose landscape is punctuated by thousands of glorious Romanesque and Gothic churches, is being sucked into the moral mire of modernity so rapidly and irretrievably.

One just hopes that those French parliamentarians for once ignore vox populi and listen instead to vox dei. Nothing in recent history suggests they will.  

5 thoughts on “France is about to lose respect”

  1. ⁷Bravo Alexander, I agree with you, however I think Houellebeccq is a deep mind ant a sharp observer of our declining western civilization.
    Kind regards

  2. Some years ago I watched a Swedish documentary which followed a terminally ill Swedish man who had no other wish than to die. As Euthanasia is illegal in Sweden he travelled with his best two friends to Switzerland where euthanasia is also legal after some rigorous interviews by doctors and psychiatrists. After approval the man was booked in to a room (looked like an ordinary home) where a small plastic container with some poison was put on the bedside table. The nurse (or doctor) then left the room and the suffering man and his two friends were left alone. It was then up the man if he wanted to take the deadly drug or not. Eventually he did. Viewers of the program where told that the drug would make the person unconscious and end his life without pain. Euthanasia is a very complicated matter and I am really split in my opinion, however I have difficulties to see why a human being with all his faculties intact, who is suffering, should not be allowed to end that suffering for good. In this particular case, death was not administered but rather the means of suicide was provided, if you like.

  3. Euthanasia is similar to being condemned to death in that both deny the individual the ultimate mystery – when exactly, and how, will death transport a person from this world. Lord Denning, the famous jurist and Master of the Rolls, was at first in favour of capital punishment, only later in his life to change his mind because he came to believe that every one of us should not know when our life will end, for it takes away hope – our most precious possession.

  4. Many people have had the distressing experience of sitting with a person who was suffering an even more distressing one of an extremely painful slow death. I am certain it’s not necessary.
    Doctors in England used to be far more generous with pain killing drugs than they are now (morphine was considered best). It is not feasible to switch the pain centre off with a highly focussed radio beam (it’s in the cerebral cortex with all the other sensory centres). Unfortunately, in everyday life, the pain centre has the essential role of getting us to move away from danger (hot stoves etc) so it has to remain as an agent of painful and lingering suffering.

  5. What-was-his-name not so long ago decided to speed the process [dying] up for those he deemed “useless eaters”. Lives “not worth living” and all that. Just give it a little bit of explanation and cajole the public and it all makes sense. What-was-his-name got his way too. Start of bigger things too. All for the good it was assumed at the time.

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