7 April 2021

Houellebecq on Euthanasia

Michel Houellebecq, “Une civilisation qui légalise l’euthanasie perd tout droit au respect," [A Civilization That Legalizes Euthanasia Loses All Right to Respect] Le Figaro (5 April, 2021), my translation:

The Catholics will resist [the legalization of euthanasia in France] as best as they can but, it is sad to say, we have grown more or less accustomed to seeing the Catholics lose every time. The Muslims and the Jews think exactly the same thing as the Catholics on this matter, as they do on many other “societal” (a terrible word) issues; the media are generally very good at hiding this. I have few illusions. In the end these religions will roll over and submit to the yoke of  “republican law”; their priests, rabbis, or imams will accompany those who are to be euthanized, telling them that it's not so bad, that tomorrow things will be better, and that even if they have been abandoned by men, God will look after them. Let's admit it.

From the Buddhist lamas' point of view, the situation is doubtless much worse. For any serious reader of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the moment before death is a very important one in a man's life, since it offers him a last chance, even in the presence of bad karma, to free himself from the wheel of suffering and end the cycle of reincarnation. Cutting off these final hours is therefore an utterly criminal act; unfortunately, Buddhists seldom intervene in public discourse.

Would Schopenhauer agree with his student? Schopenhauer did describe suicide as a “clumsy experiment” — if there is a subsequent state of being, a pessimist is bound to wonder if bringing the present one to an abrupt end might result in circumstances that are even worse.

Houellebecq's concluding paragraph:

When a country — a society, a civilization — reaches the point of legalizing euthanasia, in my eyes it has lost all right to be respected. From that moment it becomes not only legitimate, but desirable, that it should be destroyed so that something else — another society, another civilization — might have an opportunity to emerge.

Schopenhauer's gilded statue of the Buddha

Image taken from Robert Wicks, “Arthur Schopenhauer’s Bronze Buddha: Neither Tibetan nor Thai, but Shan,” Schopenhauer Jahrbuch (2011) 307-316.