Houllebecq on Euthanasia


Michel Houllebecq is a celebrated French author, and of course to be celebrated in France is to be controversial. So I was interested when I heard he had written a small piece for UnHerd on France's consideration of a propsoed euthanasia law.

Some support euthanasia so that one does not lose one's dignity. Houllebecq has this to say about that:

"Partisans of euthanasia like to gargle on words whose meanings they distort to such an extent that they should no longer even have the right to utter them. In the case of “compassion,” the lie is palpable. When it comes to “dignity”, things are more insidious. We have seriously deviated from the Kantian definition of dignity by substituting, little by little, the physical being for the moral one (and maybe even denying the very notion of a moral being), substituting the human capacity for action with a shallower more animal concept of good health — turned into a sort of pre-condition of all possibility of human dignity, even maybe its only true meaning.

"Put in this way, I have rarely had the impression that I have manifested extraordinary dignity at any time in my life; and I do not have the impression that this is likely to improve. I am going to end up losing my hair and my teeth. My lungs will be reduced to shreds. I will become steadily more or less impotent, more or less incapable, perhaps incontinent and possibly even blind. Once a certain stage of degradation has been reached, I will inevitably end up telling myself (and I will be lucky if it is not someone else pointing it out to me) that I no longer have any dignity.

"Well, so what? If that is dignity, one can very well do without it."

That's certainly a refreshing point of view.

Houllebecq then turns to how vigorously supporters of the euthanasia bill stive to refute suspicions that euthanasia has far less to do with the patient's dignity, and far more to do with the convenience of health care workers and even family members:

"For example, when she maintains: “No, euthanasia does not fall under the heading of eugenics.” On the contrary, it is obvious that the partisans of both the ideas are exactly the same people, from the “divine” Plato to the Nazis,. Likewise, when she adds, “No, the Belgian law on euthanasia has not encouraged inheritance theft.” I admit that I had not thought of this, but now that she mentions it…

"Immediately afterwards, she lets the cat right out of the bag by claiming that euthanasia “is not a solution of an economic nature”. There are, however, indeed certain sordid arguments that one only hears from “economists,” insofar as that term has any meaning. None other than Jacques Attali has insisted, in an already dated work, on the cost to the public purse of maintaining the lives of very old people."

Are you surprised to learn that it is disproportionately old women whom doctors sign off on for euthanasia? One old woman physically fought the doctor as he tried (and succeeded) to euthanize her. Old women's lives are deemed as valueless by our society; these women are viewed as only a burden.

Houllebecq's final paragraph is worth contemplation:

"The honour of a civilisation is not exactly nothing. But really something else is at stake; from the anthropological point of view. It is a question of life and death. And on this point I am going to have to be very explicit: when a country — a society, a civilisation — gets to the point of legalising euthanasia, it loses in my eyes all right to respect. It becomes henceforth not only legitimate, but desirable, to destroy it; so that something else — another country, another society, another civilisation — might have a chance to arise."

When a civilization chooses death, it should die, according to Houllebecq. Let it make room for another civilization that values life more.

He's not wrong . . .