Re­spect­ing life at the end of it

The Saline Courier - - OPINION - KATHRYN LOPEZ Kathryn Jean Lopez is se­nior fel­low at the Na­tional Re­view In­sti­tute, ed­i­torat-large of Na­tional Re­view On­line and found­ing di­rec­tor of Catholic Voices USA. She can be con­tacted at [email protected] na­tion­al­re­view.com.

“God be good to him -- we sure weren’t,” was the prayer that came to mind when I saw the news that Vincent Lam­bert had died. He died nine days af­ter be­ing taken off food and wa­ter fol­low­ing a long le­gal bat­tle.

Lam­bert, from France, had been in a traf­fic ac­ci­dent in that coun­try in 2008. He was in what most me­dia re­ports called a “veg­e­ta­tive state” since the ac­ci­dent. The de­bate over whether he should be kept alive or al­lowed to die es­ca­lated from a fam­ily dis­pute to a pitched le­gal bat­tle, even­tu­ally rop­ing in the French pres­i­dent and even the United Na­tions.

In the days be­fore his death, the arch­bishop of Paris had asked all priests in his arch­dio­cese to pray for mercy on his soul and for his fam­ily.

A per­plexed priest on Twit­ter ex­pressed some frus­tra­tion that Lam­bert’s case had be­come a such a firestorm. I un­der­stand his feel­ings. Some­times you do have to stop and won­der: What made this par­tic­u­lar story, out of all the bad and tragic news in the world -- much of which goes ig­nored or only briefly no­ticed -- such a big deal? Peo­ple live, die and starve and suffer daily, af­ter all.

It, is of course, be­cause the Lam­bert case was about a per­son at his most vul­ner­a­ble -- and the state not pro­tect­ing him in the end -- that we must pay at­ten­tion to it. When it comes to end-of-life de­bates, ex­traor­di­nary care is the ques­tion -- would the pa­tient want doc­tors to do any­thing to keep him alive -- un­der what cir­cum­stances do you fight and un­der what cir­cum­stances to you de­cide to pa­tiently wait for life’s nat­u­ral end? But the Lam­bert case stood out be­cause it in­volved re­mov­ing ba­sic nu­tri­tion from his daily care. That’s noth­ing ex­traor­di­nary. This, like mak­ing sure peo­ple at the bor­der have wa­ter and clean clothes, is a fun­da­men­tal ques­tion about our humanity and dig­nity. We talk about mercy in end­ing a life, but there can be no mercy if there is no rev­er­ence for life, what­ever state it is in.

Back on Twit­ter, I no­ticed a con­sis­tency in tweets from Pope Francis. While Lam­bert was still alive, he wrote: “We pray for the sick who are aban­doned and left to die. A so­ci­ety is hu­man if it pro­tects life, ev­ery life, from its be­gin­ning to its nat­u­ral end, with­out choos­ing who is wor­thy to live or who is not. Doc­tors should serve life, not take it away.”

Af­ter Lam­bert had died, he wrote: “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.”

The fol­low­ing day, Pope Francis tweeted: “Faith is a gift that keeps alive a pro­found and beau­ti­ful cer­tainty: that we are God’s beloved chil­dren.”

Faith helps us make sense of this life and see it as the gift that it is. It also helps draw us out of our­selves to pro­tect life and pro­tect oth­ers, es­pe­cially when they have no voice. We all have free will and live in a bro­ken world, but I couldn’t help but won­der, as Lam­bert died, that maybe if we were all a lit­tle more con­scious of the vulnerabil­ity of the peo­ple around us and our com­mon need for friend­ship, nour­ish­ment and ac­cep­tance, we wouldn’t have such bit­ter, news­mak­ing di­vides.

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