Years of legal warfare are over after Vincent Lambert, the brain-damaged French man who was in a state of impaired consciousness for 11 years while his family fought over his medical care, died last Thursday at 8.24am. After getting approval from a court, doctors stopped giving him food and water. It took him nine days to die.

Although his wife claimed that Lambert had said that he would not wish to live in such an impaired state, there were no written instructions with his end-of-life wishes.

French media have reported that his parents plan to sue his medical team. While euthanasia is illegal in France, doctors are allowed to put terminally ill patients into deep sedation until death. Lambert’s parents have argued that, while severely handicapped, their son was not “terminally ill”.

Like America’s Terri Schiavo case, this has provoked controversy around the world. Thousands upon thousands of people in “vegetative states” in nursing homes could be at risk of having their hydration and nutrition withdrawn if doctors and courts accept the reasoning behind the decision to allow Lambert to die.

Reactions to his death showed that France is divided on the issue of euthanasia for the disabled. “It is a real relief for us,” said François Lambert, Lambert’s nephew. “Vincent had been the victim of irrational medicine for years. It had to stop.”

Unsurprisingly, Pope Francis tweeted: “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.”

What was surprising was that Michel Houellebecq, the controversial and internationally acclaimed novelist, agreed with the Pope.

Houellebecq and Francis are two names seldom found in the same sentence. Houellebecq is hardly a spokesman for traditional values. His immensely influential novels are grotesque, nihilistic, pornographic, vulgar, cynical, and misogynistic. But, with the unsparing honesty of a true artist, he saw exactly what was going on. In an op-ed in Le Monde, he said:

“Vincent Lambert was in no way prey to unbearable suffering, he was not suffering any pain at all (…) He was not even at the end of life. He lived in a particular mental state, the most honest of which would be to say that we know almost nothing …

And as Houellebecq pointed out, it is ironic that the complete title of France’s minister for health is “Minister of Health and Solidarity”. Solidarity with whom, exactly?

“I admit that when the Minister of ‘Solidarity and Health’ (I love that word ‘solidarity’) had appealed in to the high court, I was stunned. I was sure that the government in this case would remain neutral. After all, [President] Emmanuel Macron had declared, not long before, that he did not wish to interfere; I thought, stupidly, that his ministers would be on the same line.

In his opinion, Buzyn was using Lambert as a battering ram to open up a breach in attitudes towards the severely disabled:

“Vincent Lambert was in no way prey to unbearable suffering, he was not suffering any pain at all (…) He was not even at the end of life. He lived in a particular mental state, the most honest of which would be to say that we know almost nothing …

“Dignity cannot be (altered) by a deterioration, as catastrophic as it may be, in one’s state of health. Or is it that there has been, indeed, a 'change in attitude'? I do not think there is any reason to rejoice.”

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet

Michael Cook

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet