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The possibility of a podcast, with Michel Houellebecq
An unofficial English translation of the hard-to-find podcast with Monsieur Houellebecq on euthanasia and dignity (Red Scare Podcast, 2023)
The French author Michel Houellebecq, much admired by The Flying Fish, affirmed recently that a civilization that legalizes euthanasia loses all respect.
Houellebecq’s appearance was following the publication on February 2023 in Harper’s Magazine of his article titled ‘La Manière Européenne de Mourir: À propos d’euthanasie et de suicide assisté’ (“The European Way to Die: On Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide”). Prior to reading the podcast transcript below, I’d recommend that interested readers dip into that Harper’s article published in English (if the Dear Reader finds the article behind a paywall, it can be alternatively opened as a .pdf), the original French language version can be viewed here.
I’ve been taking the time to work on the below text for two reasons:
My love of Monsieur Houellebecq and his great works of literature, and
I’d like to remedy the lack of the English language translations of that particular podcast. At the time of this “Flying Fish” publication, the original podcast video (which was very difficult to find for reasons unknown to me) can be viewed here. The podcast translation, DeepL with my manual corrections and text formatting, is based on the transcript from https://houellebecq.xyz/la-possibilite-dun-podcast.
Oh, one more thing. The footnotes are mine, these have no pretensions to being critical annotations. They are merely meant to, perhaps, help the reader to follow in more detail the points which Houellebecq and his interlocutors sweep along in their course. The footnotes are humble fruit of my efforts toward my understanding what has been said in the podcast—it is within my larger scale of efforts I make in order to understand, with my 20th century stupid “modern” mind and unprepared heart, the moment of the end of human life. In other words, I find myself over 50 years old and, because it is already obvious that there is now only a limited amount of time left for me to live (Houellebecq), after so many adventures, it is time to contemplate finishing with life as little badly as possible (Stendhal) when the final moment arrives at the doorstep of mine or my loved ones.1
May the Dear Reader please forgive me for any errors I might have committed in the translation and the annotation—corrections can be made in the comments.
Quoniam apud te est fons vitae; in lumine tuo videbimus lumen,
August 8 AD 2023
The possibility of a podcast
Anna. We have a very special guest today. Yes, perhaps the most special guest of all.
Dasha. It’s an honour to have you with us, Mr Michel Houellebecq. Hello, I’m Dasha.
Michel. When I was asked to write this article, I didn’t know about the euthanasia laws in force in the United States. And I’m going to be able to tell you a bit about the laws in France, which I think you’ll find a bit exotic.
Anna. Yes, that’s true. Michel has published a new article entitled The European Way of Dying in “Harper’s Magazine”. Could you give us an idea of what is happening with French legislation, what you are involved in, and why you are so passionate about this subject?
Michel. It’s easy to predict what’s going to happen in France because it is essentially a copy of what already exists in Belgium. And I know that I have very little chance of succeeding by opposing it. It is already lost in advance. I was going to talk to you about Vincent Lambert, which is a story that has received a lot of media coverage in France, is very popular, and is a very typical story.2 It so happens that the father of the main character in my latest novel, Anéantir, is in a very, very similar situation. He found himself in a state where he could no longer speak or do anything except move his eyes. It is a state you can come back from. It’s very rare, but it is possible. The media had a field day with the conflict between Vincent’s wife, who wanted to end his life, and his mother, who wanted to keep him alive because she thought there was still hope. In the end, what happened was that the head doctor decided to do something that is legal in France, which is not really euthanasia, because poison is not really injected. Instead, it’s a kind of hypocritical procedure called deep and continuous sedation, which consists of stopping feeding the patient and giving him water until he dies.
Dasha. In your article in Harper’s, you mention that French doctors are very reluctant to the idea of introducing a kind of official euthanasia in France. Why do you think, in the light of this, that this project is somehow doomed to failure?
Michel. Why do I think that some doctors are totally opposed to it?
Dasha. No, it’s just that the fact that there is opposition among health professionals seems to contradict the fact that, according to your forecasts, euthanasia is going to become commonplace in Europe.
Michel. Two years ago, a bill was almost passed in France, and I wrote about it at the time. But there were general elections, and the parliament is very different, and the political conditions against euthanasia are not good. The ruling party, Macron’s party, is in favour, but so are the second ruling party and the coalition. So there is a good chance that the bill will pass.
Anna. So it doesn’t take a genius to understand how euthanasia becomes an economic solution, as you said, to the problem of an ageing population. And from there, we can see how it can be used for certain eugenic solutions. You even mentioned inheritance theft. I think you described it as the nail in the coffin of Western civilisation. Where is the bottom? Once euthanasia is adopted, what do you think will happen? It already exists in many countries.
Michel. That’s already too far for me. What shocks me most about the Lambert case, as in all the others, is that we don’t know what goes on in people’s heads. We don’t know if they’re dreaming. We don’t know anything. I’m going to tell you a story I like, taken from one of the testimonies I listened to because the subject interested me. A woman suddenly woke up and started talking out of the blue. The doctor said: “It’s incredible. I’ve been trying to talk to you for years. And she said, yes, but what you were saying was a bit boring. Limiting human beings to their ability to communicate with others. There’s a kind of obligation to communicate, and if you don’t communicate, you’re not human. Opponents of euthanasia play a lot on dignity and our feelings. One of the main organisations is called “The Right to Die with Dignity”.3 If you piss and shit in bed, you’re no longer human. All in all, I don’t much like this idea of dignity. You ask me what happens after euthanasia. If you look at Belgium and Holland, the countries that France is going to copy, the right to euthanasia is going to be opened up to more and more people. In Holland, you don’t have to justify having a fatal illness. It is enough to be depressed or even to have difficult life circumstances. More recently, the disease has been opened up to minors. More and more people have access to it. That's what’s happening in Holland and apparently it is the same in Canada.
Anna. In Canada, we’ve heard stories of people who have been forced to be euthanised because they haven’t paid their rent or because their children want them to die so that they can get their inheritance. Do you think that the gradual legalisation of euthanasia and the so-called Great Replacement are two sides of the same coin in this sort of slow suicide of Western civilisation?4
Michel. Yes, it’s disturbing to see that the Left seems to have only the freedom to die to defend. Among all freedoms, I think there is a real thirst for death. John Paul II was right to say that the West has entered a culture of death. That’s a good summary of what’s going on.5
Dasha. I’d like to ask you a question. I think any sensitive person can understand why euthanasia is barbaric for Christians. As an atheist or agnostic, where do you think the sanctity of life comes from? Does suffering make life sacred? And what do you think about life after death?
Michel. It’s a personal question that’s difficult for me, especially as everyone around me is Catholic. And the American law, the one that will be legal in about ten states, if I’ve understood correctly, is always less condemnable and debatable than the European law, because the choice is at least in the hands of the individual, which is quite typical of the United States, where we seem to like individual choice more. Europe is not like that. For example, in the case of Vincent Lambert, the judge said that this would not have happened if he had left a clear directive and the judge was basically boring, like a school teacher talking to a six-year-old. I don’t like that. The Catholic and Christian justification is the same as the Jewish and Muslim justification: only God decides and I don’t have that belief to justify my opposition. I don’t have the idea that a God decides on life and death, it’s more a moral conception. This leads me to say that you judge a civilisation by the way it treats the weakest among them. It’s just a question of compassion, but it’s true that those who base their opposition on religion have a stronger argument.
Anna. Yes, but leftists and progressives now use this language of compassion and empathy to justify their increasingly barbaric practices. I wanted to ask you a more utilitarian or materialistic version of Dasha’s question. Given these arguments about the sanctity of life, how is euthanasia different from something like abortion or the death penalty, which you've said you're not totally opposed to? And I mean, I think we’d probably agree with you, what makes euthanasia so different? Why is it a bridge too far?
Michel. Historically, the question of euthanasia is close to that of abortion. I think abortion goes too far at the moment. I suppose the whole debate is about the number of weeks needed to have what Catholics call the soul and others call other things, but for me it’s six to eight weeks and if that’s not the case, it’s a crime. The new law provides for twelve weeks and that’s too much, we should go back. I’m not opposed to the death penalty in certain cases, but this is very different. For me, euthanasia and abortion are parallel battles. I would like to add that I was extremely pleased with the repeal of Roe vs Wade and that the reason for this is that progressivism works a bit like a ratchet mechanism. Once a decision has been taken, there is no going back. And for me, Roe vs Wade or its repeal was a kind of counterexample to that. And that’s fine, because if we’re stuck in a situation where we can never go back on decisions, to me, that’s not democracy.
Anna. Isn’t it? It was very interesting when Roe vs Wade was repealed and a number of European leaders, like Macron and Merkel, if I remember correctly, spoke out against this sort of tyranny and authoritarianism that was happening in the US, when their abortion laws were much stricter. My feeling on this has always been that we can’t prove when conception takes place, when life first appears, sorry, when the soul first appears, not conception. We can prove that. So we might as well place it at the moment of conception, right? And so everything that follows is a special category of sanctioned murder. And my feeling about that was rather naive. Once you’re prepared to recognise and admit that, the whole debate around it becomes much more reasonable. But of course, that’s not what happened. I don’t know how nice it was to see Roe vs Wade repealed, but it wasn’t bad.
The reason I have my doubts about the repeal of Roe vs Wade is that I feel it will embolden left-wing and progressive activists even more to redouble their efforts.
Michel. Yes, but for me it’s important to have this proof that it’s possible to turn back the clock. The reaction in France was that some left-wing activists wanted to enshrine the right to abortion in the Constitution, which is absurd. That’s not at all what a constitution is for. It wouldn’t really be effective, because the Constitution can always be changed or amended. But I have the impression that something has broken with this decision, the sort of ineligibility of this progression in France, the level of activity on the left is frenetic, and I think it's because the left feels it’s losing its grip on power and it’s getting very nasty.
Dasha. Also here. Also in the Harper’s article, you say that what concerns you about euthanasia is the infantilisation of granting a doctor the right to end your life, as well as the compelling desire for ultimate freedom. I was wondering whether, for you, there is a meaningful distinction between the decision to euthanise oneself and the decision to commit suicide. Or at least you don’t delegate this task to a doctor. Perhaps you are acting more on the basis of a genuine freedom to end your life, however selfish that may be. Does that make sense?
Michel. I don’t want to be asked to have dignity, and I don’t want to leave it up to someone else to decide whether I have dignity or not. The problem with assisted suicide laws, like the ones you have in America, is that it’s a problem for doctors. If someone asked me for poison, I would simply say no. But today it’s doctors who are faced with these issues in the US, where they are licensed and it’s the opposite of their job and their oath. I know all the anti-euthanasia campaigners here in France, and the most enraged, more than the priests, are the doctors who don’t want to have to do it to give people poison. In Switzerland, it’s even more liberal. It can be anyone. Anyone can buy poison and sell it, including anti-euthanasia campaigners. But euthanasia is worse. And it's starting to sound a lot like sci-fi thrillers where your life is in the hands of society and society decides whether you can live or die, basically. At the end of my article I gave Richard Matheson’s short story a lot of publicity, but it deserves it.6
Dasha. In this short story, for the benefit of listeners, Matheson explains that everyone has become so oblivious to death that it has become an integral part of their lives and that it is always loved ones who have been killed. And the protagonist of this story is sort of grappling with wanting his father to be dead in some way, but also loving him very much and being in this dystopian reality where the decision isn’t made for you.
Anna. Yes, but I think the most frightening thing is that in the United States, as soon as responsibility is offloaded onto doctors, it becomes, of course, a commercial enterprise. Nor should we forget that in the United States in particular, the quality of medicine and the quality of the people who train to be doctors has steadily declined. These are not responsible people who respect the Hippocratic oath. You mentioned in the Harper’s article that it’s a combination of wanting every aspect of one’s life micromanaged and indulging in a kind of petulant individualism. Would it be fair to say that people want a kind of assisted individualism where they feel they can express themselves to the maximum, but where other entities make the executive decisions for them?
Michel. I wasn’t aware that the quality of doctors was declining in the United States. Euthanasia and Europe are in a way a very sorry state of servitude in which you are managed by others. It is very bizarre and unhealthy to ask society to decide whether you are worth living the rest of your life.
Anna. What I want to know is that there is a lot of talk about individualism, which is the dominant mentality of our time. But I don’t think it’s quite individualism or even nihilism. It’s a kind of renunciation of responsibility for one’s own lot in life. Everyone wants someone else to make the decision for them. I think that’s what people have always wanted, but now it’s becoming a kind of official policy. It’s being encoded in law.
Dasha. The externalisation of responsibility.
Michel. There is still a form of nihilism, but it’s not quite the nihilism prophesied by Nietzsche. It doesn’t just come from there. We don’t believe in anything, but in a way it comes from the fact that we don’t think the past and the things we’ve done before are important. We only care about the potential of the future. This leads to a kind of nihilism, because everyone’s individual value in these conditions tends to be practically zero. I believe that this kind of nihilism is very dominant and very active. For me, this desire to delegate, to externalise, is limited to healthcare. There’s a huge obsession with health at the moment, and it’s never been so intense. Today, I have the impression that we no longer control anything, and I think we tend to delegate on this point in the end. A simple example: when I see actors being interviewed, I always, always ask them what their next project is. When they finish something, it’s as if everything disappears into nothingness.
Anna. Yes, that’s true. I’m not going to ask you what you’re working on next. I’m going to dissect your current work.
Dasha. I recently worked with a French actress and I asked her what she was going to do next and she said, “I am so tired”. And now I suppose it’s the same in Europe, because culture is America’s biggest export. Yes, I really feel this nihilistic projection into the future, but also the parallel with something like Roe vs Wade. I get the impression that there’s also this nihilistic disinvestment in the future where people are procreating at record rates and the sanctity of life has been devalued on both sides.
Michel. It’s just a question, but I’ve been very interested in demography, and I wonder whether the reason why American demography is good or much better than that of Europe is solely linked to the problem of Latin American immigration.
Anna. But I don’t think our demographics are good.
Michel. Yes, it is.
Anna. It may be better than yours, but it’s not certain that it’s all that good. And I think that as new people come into the country, their demographics will eventually fall. Inevitably.
Michel. The demographics are very interesting. We understand that if there is a nihilism, it’s not a French or European nihilism, or even a specifically Western nihilism. It is essentially a modern nihilism. The most serious situation is that of Asian countries such as Japan and Korea, and more recently China. In Korea, the birth rate is 0.9. In Europe. It’s 1.3 or 1.4. On average, this is not even the end of Christianity. That’s the problem. It is something much bigger and much more important.
The idea that has been promoted, basically, is that the most prudent thing to do, the safest thing to do, is to do nothing. And when you think about it, you realise that this is true.
Anna. That is why I never find the Marxist argument that people simply can’t afford to have children convincing. I think it’s something much deeper than that. It’s a philosophical existential problem.
Michel. But there are other elements involved. And I don’t want to go too far now because my Chinese wife is here in the room. There is a kind of light in the virtual. The virtual takes precedence over the real and this is detrimental to sexuality and reproduction. This is what we find in certain cyberpunk novels and others. But it’s also the case today. There is an inability to connect with reality that is very detrimental to the act of making babies. What Asia and Europe have in common is the collapse of the dominant religion that structured people’s lives. But the rise of material values is even more opposed to Buddhism than it is to Christianity. It’s a global phenomenon, really, demographically. There’s Africa and the rest of the world. Basically, the only countries with a healthy demographic situation are the countries of South America. Except that things aren’t going so well there. That is probably why they come to you.
Anna. What do you think about incels?7 Is this a real phenomenon, or are these people really incapable? Do they really want to have sex or do they want to reserve the right to complain that they can’t because they’re so “online”?
Michel. Actually, it’s worse than that, this incel situation. There are a growing number of people who declare themselves asexual because they’re not interested in sex. There are also, among those who are interested in sex, people who are only interested in sex if it involves violent domination. These are the two trends I have observed. Neither of them is really positive. I remember seeing a programme for young people and the presenter said in a surprised tone: “We’ve found people who are asexual”. It’s sort of unintentional. There are many asexuals who are asexual, not accidentally, but totally voluntarily, who decide not to have sex, not to be interested in it.
Dasha. But do you think it’s a coping mechanism, perhaps because they cannot or do not want to pursue sex or even, as you said, because they can’t engage with the physical world enough for someone to have sex?
Michel. No, I think it’s worse than that. I think it is a real loss of basic life functions. It is not about coping with difficulties. It’s a kind of weakening of people’s vital energy. Even very young people are obsessed with staying healthy.
Anna. They don’t have to.
Michel. It concerns everyone in society, and yes, feminist movements like #MeToo, etc., have played a pretty bad role because the idea that has been promoted, basically, is that the most prudent thing, the safest thing to do, is to do nothing. And when you think about it, you realise that this is true. If you don’t do anything, maybe a bit of sport, maybe a bit of good food, you’re being careful and, basically, that’s good.
Anna. Can I ask you a slightly lighter question? Do you think it’s better to be a fascist than to do nothing?
Michel. I think the answer is different in France and the United States. I have the impression that in America you make more friends if you are a fascist and here you agree, without conviction, with a lot of people. People say that the far right is the fastest growing bloc of voters here. But that is not true. Abstentionists, people who don’t vote, are the fastest growing group of voters. So to answer your question, I’d say basically, stand for nothing here and be a fascist in America.
Dasha. I have a question about feminism. I think we can all agree that feminism, even in its earliest conceptions, has been a colossal failure and totally wrong. But I read one of your essays in which you praised the scum of Valérie Solanas.8
Michel. Solanas’ book is very good, very well written.
Dasha. It is very good, yes. But it is a different kind of feminism to that which strives for equality between the sexes. I think Solanas is doing something very different.
Michel. Whatever her vision, she’s a good writer.
Dasha. She’s a good writer, yes.
Anna. But aren’t the people who are, for example, the best feminists or the best comedians necessarily the ones who are totally different from the others in their field, so that they achieve something different? Those who are are different from the rest of the people who do what they do. They are different from the rest because they are artists first and foremost.
Dasha. So the ideal is not a feminist in the traditional sense of the word, i.e. one who wants equality between the sexes. Rather, like Solanas, she’s a female supremacist who wants to castrate and dismantle.
It is true that God is collapsing, that moral law is collapsing, that love is collapsing and that little dogs are perhaps the only things left standing
Anna. She is much more honest about what feminism is about.
Dasha. Yes, she is.
Michel. She thinks it is best for women to take power. And with men enslaved, I’m not necessarily against the idea.
Dasha. At least she stands for something.
Anna. That’s why I asked if being a fascist is better than thinking nothing.
Dasha. My question was that this essay reminded me of something Nietzsche says. I know you are not the biggest Nietzsche fan, but he says that love is fundamentally an eternal antagonism between the sexes and that the true nature of love, of heterosexuality is antagonistic. And I think that’s something you explore in your work. So my question is, what does this have to do with goodness, and whether you think that in some cases it can be good to be materially cruel.
Michel. Basically, I am more of a “Schopenhauerian”. For him, love is a disguise for the reproductive impulse. He talks about it at length, but that is basically what he says. If we want to think about it in a more romantic way, love is an attempt, a human attempt, like the moral law, like God, like puppies. A human attempt to make the world a better place. And in a way, it is one of the best things we have invented. It all worked. But today it is true that God is crumbling, the moral law is crumbling, love is crumbling, and the puppies are perhaps the only things left standing. I say this in all seriousness. Man knows he’s no good and looks for ways to become better, and love is one of them. The transformation of the wolf into a lamb is another attempt to create an ideal good.
Anna. That reminds me of a passage, I think it was in The Possibility of an Island9, where you said that in earlier times, women were perhaps in a situation comparable to that of domestic animals such as dogs, in that they had a place of honour and tasks to perform. Today, this situation no longer exists. But I have a question about Schopenhauer. You disagree with Schopenhauer and believe that eroticism has a place in art. Can you tell us more about that?
Michel. Yes. Schopenhauer thought that there couldn’t be much eroticism in art, and for the same reason he also said that there can be horror in art. Art is not designed to arouse impulses such as fear or desire, but to calm them. For him, the function of contemplation is the true objective of all art. In principle, he is right. But I think it is possible to have a contemplative attitude even towards that which inspires desire or fear. And Kant agrees with me on this point when he talks about this feeling of the sublime. He says that in situations where we are confronted with death or terror, we can be in a state of objective and disinterested contemplation. We can also be in a state of contemplation even when there is desire, for example when you have an erection. To sum up, Schopenhauer is right. But I think he underestimated the capacity of art or the power of art to do things.
Dasha. I have a slightly lighter question. There’s this idea of what people call the Houellebecquian man, which refers to characters in your work who are often depressive or depressing, abject, horny types who suffer largely because of their desires. And my question is this: if there is one, what does a Houellebecquian woman look like, if you had to describe her?
Michel. I know everything, so I can make a sort of summary of my work. I think there’s a lot more variety in my female characters.
Dasha. Why do you think that is?
Michel. I think that very often, it is not the case in all the novels, but very often, I need someone who is a man because I’m a man. It is probably not a real character, but it’s like the camera in a film. He is a perceiver. It’s there to perceive things. Not to act, really, but to perceive things. So he’s a bit inactive. The main role of the Houellebecquian man, whatever, is to see the world pass before him. And that’s very clear in my first novel, Extension du domaine de la lutte. It is not so much a character as an eye.
Anna. Yes, I think that in Extension du domaine de la lutte, your first novel in which you argued, through a friend of the protagonist who was a priest, that there is an obsession with sexual neurosis in our society, but that in fact people are very bored, and that sex doesn’t sell. I wonder if you see a link between the Houellebecquian man and the Russian concept of the superfluous man. I think this is the first time this type of archetype has appeared in literature, perhaps.
Michel. I am not sure I understand the concept, actually. Among Russian writers, I’ve always felt closer to Gogol. In Dead Souls, when he arrives at a new farm, the character simply describes what he sees. And what we perceive in a given situation is largely what brings us together. But I don’t know if Gogol has anything to do with the superfluous man.
Anna. No, I don’t think it does. I mean, I think it was a concept that was almost always aristocratic and I think it was hidden. (I’m so drunk!) I’m trying to find the right word. The middle class got hold of it. So there are a lot of novelists writing books about these nihilistic, depressive characters from a middle-class point of view. In the past, the only people who really had the luxury of an internal monologue were the aristocrats.
I am what’s left of romanticism, and it is not necessarily a pretty sight.
Michel. In fact, my first novel was influenced by Pérec and Ionesco. It described characters who didn’t want to move and aspired to immobility and doing nothing. But the way I wanted to write this character was to put him in a situation where he had to get up and go to work every day.
Anna. The other question I have is that people often accuse you of being misogynistic because of the two-dimensional quality of your female characters and the fact that they are a bit too helpful and generous. But is the most charitable explanation that, as a man, you don’t write from a woman's state of mind? In a way.
Michel. That’s not an easy question to answer, but if I were asked whether the character who is my eye and who sees things could be a woman, I couldn’t do it. An important character in the novel could be a woman, but not the one who is the eye.
Dasha. Yes, that is true.
Anna. And the other thing I’ve noticed reading, especially when I read your sex scenes, which I often read on planes and airports, I’ve said this several times on this podcast, is how compassionate and full of love they are. And you seem to have a love of humanity and even of women. Would you describe yourself as a hopeless romantic, or am I deluding myself?
Michel. I am very comfortable with romantic writers, and that’s my world. Yes, but I have to say that in the end, the project failed and you could say that I’m what’s left of romanticism, and that is not necessarily a pretty sight. It’s all very interesting, but we’re getting away from the subject of my militant anti-euthanasia, and I’d like to ask you if the idea of legalising assisted suicide is currently being debated in any of the United States.
Dasha. No. Maybe in some marginal corners, but not really as far as I know. I think abortion is a much more politically contested issue in America than the moral or existential implications of euthanasia, which we haven’t really addressed yet.
Anna. But we’re not even very familiar with this debate. You said that there are now ten American states in which euthanasia is basically legal.
Michel. In the states where abortion is legal, up to how many weeks is abortion allowed?
Dasha. That depends.
Anna. The repeal of Roe vs Wade happened because there was a law in Mississippi that allowed abortion at 15 weeks, which was considered extreme. In my home state of New Jersey, I think you can have an abortion right up to the last minute.
Anna. Yes, I am very upset about that.
Dasha. It is also a parallel with euthanasia. While you were talking about dignity, once you’ve shat and pissed your bed, you are no longer a person. There is this debate in America where, because the foetus is dependent on the mother, it doesn’t have the right to be a person in order to be enslaved. In that sense, I think there is also a nihilistic parallel about the value a person can bring to a society and their dependence on others to continue to exist. But I have a question about the story you mentioned earlier, where the man who had the accident was not euthanised and was simply deprived of food and water until he died. I think there are so many situations in medicine where, even if euthanasia itself is not codified, doctors are still capable of letting people die whom they consider superfluous, even if they don’t inject them with poison or euthanise them in the most humane way possible. I think that, even without legalising euthanasia, the state and the medical industry can murder people.
Michel. I’ve made that clear. At the same time as depriving him of food and drink, you give him medication so that he doesn’t suffer at all. And it works. It is really incredible, but it works. People don’t suffer, but you don’t kill them. I think the French are the most hypocritical people in the world. There is no comparison.
Anna. That is what everyone thinks.
Michel. What the pro-euthanasia people want at the moment is just to give poison. I agree. But I have to say that in Vincent Lambert’s case, he was deprived of food and water the first time, and he stayed alive for 30 days, which is incredible. And there was this decision by the administrative court because the mother’s lawyer appealed and won the case before the hospital’s head doctor and the courts forced them to feed him again.
Anna. But when he was re-fed, did he survive or is he still alive?
Michel. Yes, he was in the same condition. So it was after three more years of trial that he was deprived of food and other things, and finally died. It’s a complicated story, which I’ll summarise here, but even the United Nations intervened. There was a lot of debate. It lasted about five years, and they realised that the simplest way to proceed, for the supporters of euthanasia, was to legalise it, i.e. authorise it, and that's why they are pushing so hard.
Dasha. Yes, I can see that.
Anna. But it reminds me a little of the legal battles over the death penalty in the United States. When the prisoner has a certain number of appeals, it almost becomes his own economy and his own employment programme because a lot of people get involved in the legal battle on both sides. There are a number of appeals. I’m not familiar with the system, but the condemned man can appeal against his death sentence. So they languish for many years, even decades.
Michel. That’s a fair comparison. In France, a good lawyer can delay the adoption of a euthanasia decree against a person for several years. But what the activists want is for the possibilities of appeal to be reduced more and more. That’s what they are focusing on.
Dasha. So, as you said, Catholics in some ways have the strongest moral argument against euthanasia because they believe that it is up to God to decide whether a person dies. How can you, as a lay person, defend the real dignity of life without associating a spiritual or metaphysical component with it?
Michel. It is simply that, irrespective of questions of body or spirit, I have the idea that even a very degraded body deserves to be treated with love rather than simply disposed of.
Dasha. Yes, I agree with that. But as a Christian, just as I believe that a foetus has a right to life regardless of its dependence on the mother, I wonder how we can defend the sanctity of life without this dimension of the soul.
Michel. I don’t really have an answer.
Dasha. That’s OK. I share your sentiment. I just, I guess, have a Christian understanding of the soul. That’s what I think. When I first went to Switzerland and discovered euthanasia as a commercial practice, a practice that was politics, I was very disturbed. But I also found Switzerland to be a truly godless country. Because they have no identity and they worship money. They do not have churches, they have banks.
Michel. Honestly, England is the most depressive country and the most depressive literature I know. And it is the most godless country I know.
Dasha. Yes, it is.
Anna. Why do you think that is?
Michel. I think Anglicanism is a strange creation. It was a religion created without any spiritual reason, created just to suit the king. So it only has the structure of a religion. There is no content. The Calvinists were serious people in their own way. I think the king whose name I can’t remember created Anglicanism just to separate himself from Rome. But for no spiritual reason. There is a difference between religion becoming something very superficial in England. I think that’s the only historical reason I can see.
Dasha. That’s right. It’s like the story you mentioned in your Harper’s article. I think that in Switzerland, there is also this culture of neutrality and in the same way in this dystopia, there is this indifference, this neutral attitude towards death which, I think, is deeply impoverished on a spiritual level.
Anna. Does neutrality lead to the absence of God?
Dasha. Please, don’t stand idly by.
Michel. I think you’ve gone to the wrong places, there are Catholics in Switzerland. I think it’s really worse in England. It would take too long to talk about all the European countries. But there are differences, really. For example, the situation is very different in Spain and Italy, which is still much more Catholic. But in fact, it is never good for a religion to be too strongly associated with a border. In Spain, the problem was the association with Franco, which was very strong and which didn’t exist with Mussolini in Italy, so it was very bad for the Spanish.
Anna. Can we come to a conclusion?
Dasha. Yes, we can conclude. Do you have any other questions?
Anna. Yes, I have one more question. When did you start smoking cigarettes and how many do you smoke a day?
Michel. The second question is difficult because I’m trying to stop, but I’ve got a problem with Zyban, which is a drug that helps you stop and is hard to find. So it depends, more or less a packet, yes.
Dasha. Have you ever taken antidepressants?
Michel. Not really. I am more anxious than depressed and anxiolytics suit me better.
Dasha. Never mind. There’s an antidepressant that’s also a smoking cessation aid. Yes, there is.
Michel. It’s your fault that I smoke because it is difficult for me to have an intellectual conversation with anyone who smokes.
Anna. I smoke too.
Dasha. Yes, likewise. Yes, very much so.
Michel. It’s not that difficult for you. You haven’t smoked since you started.
Anna. I can’t in this house because we have a baby, but otherwise we’d be blessed too.
Dasha. Yes, we would.
Anna. Anyway, thank you very much.
Dasha. Thank you for your time and for taking part in the show.
Michel. Thank you very much. Bye for now.
More writing from me on the subject of the end of life (and my instinctive aversion to the euphemism of “euthanasia”) may or may not be forthcoming. I haven’t decided yet because I haven’t had the courage necessary to decide that I know what I’m talking about. So far, all I’ve been able to put down (pun intended) can be found here: https://theflyingfish.substack.com/i/106749158/nowadays-ars-moriendi-and-amicus-morti
The “Lambert case” refers to a high-profile legal and medical case in France surrounding the decision to withdraw life support from a man named Vincent Lambert. It seems that the case became emblematic of the debates on the “right to die”, the definition of “a vegetative state”, and the so-called end-of-life decisions in the country. Here are the key details that I’ve been able to find:
Vincent Lambert was involved in a motorcycle accident in 2008 which left him quadriplegic and in a “vegetative state”.
Doctors at the Reims hospital, where Lambert was being treated, concluded in 2013 that there was no chance of any improvement in his condition and began a process to end life support, in line with the wishes of several family members.
The decision to withdraw life support became contentious as the family was deeply divided on the issue. While Lambert’s wife and six of his eight siblings believed that it would be better to let him go, his parents, a brother, and a sister felt that ending life support would be equivalent to euthanasia and against their Catholic beliefs.
The case reached French courts and even international institutions. Over the years, the case saw numerous appeals, court rulings, and counter-rulings.
In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights upheld a French court ruling allowing for the end of life support.
The case became emblematic in France of the debate over “end-of-life rights”, euthanasia, and the role of families and doctors in making these decisions.
End of Life:
In May 2019, doctors at the Reims hospital once again began the process to end Lambert’s life support by stopping the nutrition and hydration that kept him alive. This decision was backed by the highest courts of the French Republic.
Vincent Lambert died on July 11, 2019, more than a decade after his accident.
In the original transcript, it is “Le droit de mourir dans la dignité”. I’m guessing this is most likely ADMD: Association pour le droit de mourir dans la dignité, here: https://admd.france-assos-sante.org
In recent years, “The Great Replacement” has perhaps transcended its origins as the title of Renaud Camus’ 2011 book. The phrase may often encapsulate the belief or the theory that native European populations are being systematically replaced by non-European immigrants particularly those from Muslim-majority countries through the means of mass immigration and differential birth rates.
I could be wrong, but my guess is that Mr. Houellebecq read Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”), published in 1995. John Paul II issued a clarion call against “the threats to life” (including abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment) in modern society, categorizing these threats under the banner of a “culture of death”. The pontiff's signalled a societal shift where the intrinsic value and dignity of human life and metaphysical necessity for human suffering are increasingly dismissed or overlooked. The term “culture of death” is used to describe a society that accepts and promotes actions that threaten or end human life, particularly the lives of the most vulnerable. Here may be an excerpt that may be relevant to the “culture of death”, mentioned by Monsieur Houellebecq:
“In fact, while the climate of widespread moral uncertainty can in some way be explained by the multiplicity and gravity of today’s social problems, and these can sometimes mitigate the subjective responsibility of individuals, it is no less true that we are confronted by an even larger reality, which can be described as a veritable structure of sin. This reality is characterized by the emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a veritable ‘culture of death’. This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents which encourage an idea of society excessively concerned with efficiency”.
The story referred to here is Richard Matheson’s The Test (1954). “The Flying Fish” recently posted it for the Dear Reader here.
“Incel” is short for “involuntary celibate” and that is what Anna may be referring to. The term originally described a man who struggles with finding a female partner (romantic and/ or sexual) despite a desire for one, without attaching any specific ideology or mindset to it. Over time, however, the term incel seems to have come to be associated with a particular online subculture. This community is supposedly mostly composed of men who express resentment, anger, and are almost always accused of “misogyny” towards women, where incels are blaming women for incels’ inability to form “romantic” or “sexual” relationships.
Dasha may be referring to M. Houellebecq’s writing in Interventions 2020, in which Valerie Solanas (1936-1988) is mentioned sixteen times (in “What use are men?” and “13. Humanity, the second stage”). Valerie Solanas, who shot and killed Andy Warhol in 1968, published the radical feminist polemic S.C.U.M. Manifesto (Society for Cutting Up Men) in 1967. Therefore, the “scum” Dasha mentions is probably Solanas’ S.C.U.M., or it is a play on words.
(The manifesto is available here.)