The Case of Vincent Lambert: Euthanasia Under Another Name (3)

Source: FSSPX News

The French government has lodged an appeal against the decision of the Paris Court of Appeals, which ordered the return of Vincent Lambert’s food and hydration. After examining the medical and legal aspect of this decision, let’s look at the ethical aspect of this case.

What do we mean by the term “ethic”? In itself, it means the same as “moral.” The latter has a Latin origin, while the first comes from the Greek. But recent usage has more or less reserved the word ethic to a strictly rational observation. The term “moral” is more easily used to designate Catholic morality, which is deployed rationally too, but under the light and direction of divine revelation. This point will be the subject of a fourth and final part.

Usefulness of Ethics

Man is endowed with reason: he is a “reasonable animal” according to Aristotle’s famous definition. Hence, he must direct himself by his intelligence, and not allow himself to be dominated by the passions he has in common with the animal. The latter is also equipped with an instinct that makes him complete his end without hesitation...or reflection. 

But to lead oneself, to act rationally in all circumstances, is difficult. This requires a correct understanding of the end towards which we are heading, of taking the means to achieve it by adapting them according to the infinite variety of particular cases that can be presented to each one. How is this to be done?

Individually, the most important thing is to practice the virtue of prudence, which, through experience, teaches us to correct ourselves and to improve ourselves in our moral conduct. But we do not reinvent the world with each generation—according to the motto of the International taken up by the children of May ’68: “make a clean break with the past.” This attitude forgets that their own children will say the same thing, indefinitely undermining the foundations of true human progress. It is therefore necessary, as in all arts and techniques, to know the general rules that will then be implemented by everyone. The sculptor has learned his art from masters, but it is up to him to apply it to the material at his disposal, with the tools he possesses, according to his own skill. 

These general rules of human action have long been sought after, and a long list of authors who have written books and treatises in this field could be drawn up, with unequal results. In addition, every civilization is a carrier of these types of rules, of a certain ethic, with its greatness and its shortcomings. Its utility is therefore inscribed in the very history of humanity.

Need for Ethics

Ethical reflection is always necessary. Man is at all times reasonable, and he is bound to be guided by reason whatever the circumstances. The just rules of human action are one of humanity’s concerns. Admittedly, divine revelation has come to provide assistance that is as precious as it is unexpected. But it does not prohibit this consideration; on the contrary, it encourages it. Thus, the prince of theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas, comments on the Nicomachean Ethics of the venerable Aristotle, so as to incorporate and assimilate it in his Summa Theologiæ.

This necessity is always sensed, and manifests itself most particularly in the absence of divine revelation: either before its appearance, or after it has been rejected by apostate nations.

In our decadent West, this obligation is all the more necessary because it must oppose the surge of passion and irrationality, with a barrier of a disciplined, rigorous, living, organizing, and wise intelligence.

Not that it is necessary to delude oneself as to the result. Truth does not often impose itself, in the way that passions or ideology can obscure men’s intelligence. But it does not prevent us from, like all generations, engaging in this “ethical” reflection.

The Principles at Stake

An important point is that of certain principles which command reflection or which are put forward as fundamental in the Vincent Lambert case.

Human Dignity

This concept is invoked as much by the promoters of euthanasia, such as the Association for the Right to Die with Dignity (ADMD), as by those who strongly oppose it.

The highest foundation of human dignity is faith. We will not use it here. But what is accessible to reason is the specificity of human nature, which alone among visible creatures possesses a purely spiritual intelligence and will. This nature is so complete that it is comes about in a way unique to each individual: none is interchangeable, unlike individuals of animal species. This accomplishment has a name: the person.

One of the main prerogatives of the person is to be radically master of himself. This is the fundamental sense of human dignity that persists even in the slave or prisoner. This being understood, it follows quite easily that this dignity does not depend on the actual state of the person: no infirmity can reach it. Whether the person is in a state of waking, sleeping, or coma, in a minimally conscious state, or in a state of awakening without response, his dignity remains, like that of every living man. That the person who owns it is weaker and more dependent, makes it an all the more urgent duty to recognize this dignity and respect it.

However, to avoid sophisms, it must be added that human dignity has another meaning: so-called “moral” dignity. This follows from the actions taken by the person. Thus, a hero who defended his country at the risk of his life deserves recognition and respect; but a thief or an assassin deserves only dishonor and just punishment. It is the confusion of this meaning with the precedent that gives rise to the “religious freedom” error of Vatican II, but that is another subject.

The Content of the Natura Law

The orientation towards our end is not unconscious, as in the stone that immediately reaches its center of attraction, nor unintelligent, as in the animal that follows its instinct; it is reasonable, as we have said. But we follow in this a certain law which can be described as the spontaneous but intelligent inclination to our natural good.

Thus, all natural law is resolved into a single principle, the others of which are only explanations: “We must do good and avoid evil.” The ideas of good and evil play an ultimate role. These ideas cover everything that concurs or, on the contrary, opposes the exercise of human life, whether it is his physical or animal life or his specifically human and rational life. These manifestations of the need to live are not limited to the necessities of the individual but extend to the whole social order.

Now, man is first attracted to seeking the goods corresponding to his nature, as any being who seeks self-preservation. According to this instinct, all that ensures human preservation and all that prevents the opposite of life, i.e., death, come under the natural law, e.g., food and health.

What everyone seeks for himself, he also owes to those who cannot attain it themselves. Thus, the natural law creates for us an obligation not only to nourish ourselves, but also to provide what is necessary to all who depend on us. A society, the family, and even more so, the State, are under the same obligation towards all those who depend on it.

Quality of Life

It can be related to human dignity, but this concept includes a subjective element that cannot be neglected: the way in which the person feels his difficulty, his troubles, his abandonment. It is remarkable that palliative care very often succeeds in restoring the taste for life of many patients, much more by the warm presence around them, by the interest they are shown, and the time devoted to them, and finally by the self-giving of which they are the object, than by the regular care.

This observation is a reminder of the serious duty of assistance we have concerning those whom illness or infirmity plunge into physical or mental suffering. Those who do not understand this will want to unburden themselves of this duty, often by abandoning or removing those who are the object of it. They will invoke a quality of a life that is no longer there, of a state judged to be hopeless. And then there is the case of those who, insufficiently supported, come to wish to disappear themselves. The question then is: have we done all we could to help them?

Freedom and Death

This title attacks the foundation of the euthanasia position, to which could be added suicide, whether assisted or not. Freedom, now erected as absolute—when it is only a means—and constantly invoked, would make us believe that henceforth man is capable of absolutely everything. The only limit, and yet it is blithely crossed in the case of abortion, is the freedom of others.

“Since it is my body, my life, I can do what I want, as long as I do not go against the law or the freedom of the neighbor”: this is the modern slogan of freedom. The Netherlands and Belgium have learned the consequences. So, there is no reason to prohibit assisted suicide or euthanasia. There is no longer any reason not to inflict death upon a being who is considered to have no reason to live.

Freedom thus conceived is a delusion. It frees itself from any law, except the will of each individual. If each one can conceive good and evil as he wishes, if good and evil depends only on the judgment of only one personal reason, the difference between good and evil is removed. It is for each one to judge what is honest and what is not. That which pleases will be allowed: “to each his own truth.” This means that there is no truth, neither speculative, nor moral.

Consequently, there is no longer objective law, no law, everything depends only on the will of each person. But if killing those who have no reason to live is acceptable, where does it end? Who can judge? And according to what criteria? At its root, it is eugenic thought that believes that society must eliminate the imperfect of all kinds. It amounts to thinking, for example, that trisomy is an intolerable defect, that it must be detected before birth and those who are affected eliminated. Such reasoning may extend to club feet, hemophiliacs, dwarfism, cleft palate (cleft lip)...all of which are reasons, in France, to get an abortion. At the other end of the cycle of life, useless old people had better watch out.


Although limited, ethical reflection can still define the parameters, point out the errors to avoid and the goals to pursue. Done well, it can help our contemporaries not to get lost among the prevailing sophisms. In this respect, it is indispensable.