The Sad Interview with Jean Vanier Supporting Medical Aid in Dying

Alas, the capitulations continue.  A few days ago, I listened on the CBC to an interview with the great Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, which cares for severely handicapped and developmentally challenged people, heroic work that I could scarcely consider doing.  I visited the L’Arche in Inverness, Scotland in 2003, when two of my students were working there in the summer, and was duly impressed.

Yet, here was Dr. Vanier (he earned a Ph. D. on Aristotle’s Ethics from the Institut Catholique de Paris in the mid-sixties) confessing to Carol Off and all his listeners that he is in favour of a law permitting ‘assisted suicide’, or, more properly, physician murder.  You can peruse the whole clip here.  The interview with Jean Vanier begins at minute 29, with his own admission at the end of minute 36.

Here is Jean Vanier in his own words, after a nuanced preface:

Shouldn’t we have some legislation to permit this?  I say yes, but let’s put in safeguards

Curiously, this snippet does not show up on the CBC’s own written transcription, for reasons I cannot discern.  Perhaps Dr. Vanier reconsidered being so forthright (earlier, he avoids answering a direct question concerning his support for the proposed legislation from Ms. Off).  In fact, in most of the interview he emphasizes the importance of life, and supporting those in pain, but then this.

A few moments later, as they end their discussion, Ms. Off asks Vanier if he would ever consider having his own life ended:

That is certainly a very personal question, and I would say no…But I have never lived intense pain

Presuming that under the influence of such ‘intense pain’, he might avail himself of this option?  Or that others may?  Does not Dr. Vanier realize that the first targets of any non-consensual extension of the euthanasia law (which is more than likely, as history attests) will be people like his very beloved and very vulnerable core members of L’Arche?  Does he not realize what will happen to the ‘safeguards’ that the legislation tries to put in place?

This is truly saddening, and I hesitated even to write about it.  I had to listen to the audio more than a few times to be sure of what I was hearing.  Most of what Vanier says is good, pious and heartwarming, about helping and loving each other, developing from an ‘I’ to a ‘we’ model, palliative care and so on.  My fears is that the CBC had him on as the voice of a rational, compromising, compassionate Catholicism, gently advocating the ‘medical assistance in dying’ bill, with love and all the proper ‘safeguards’, of course.

The CBC chose well, for Jean Vanier is indeed one of the great Catholics of the last and this century, giving his life up, including marriage and family, to work with the weakest and most vulnerable amongst us.  I had the honour to hear him speak and to meet him briefly a number of years ago at a talk he gave in Kingston.

But that is why this, sadly, is a scandal.  I am in no way saying that Jean Vanier is ‘pro euthanasia’ (his emphasis is most definitely on palliative care), and still hope that his words stemmed from some level of confusion about the law, or what it entails or perhaps, God help him, even his age (he is 87).  On issues of life, one cannot compromise, and no Catholic, indeed no person of good conscience, can support ‘euthanasia’ legislation. Far better for Dr. Vanier to heed the words of the great John Paul II from his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (par.72-73):

laws which legitimize the direct killing of innocent human beings through abortion or euthanasia are in complete opposition to the inviolable right to life proper to every individual; they thus deny the equality of everyone before the law. It might be objected that such is not the case in euthanasia, when it is requested with full awareness by the person involved. But any State which made such a request legitimate and authorized it to be carried out would be legalizing a case of suicide-murder, contrary to the fundamental principles of absolute respect for life and of the protection of every innocent life. In this way the State contributes to lessening respect for life and opens the door to ways of acting which are destructive of trust in relations between people…

Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection.

I hope and pray that Jean Vanier follows this papal exhortation, retracts his words, and reconsiders his position.  Or the Church may have to reconsider all the schools named after him (I have never been a fan of naming Catholic buildings after living people anyways, which used to be contrary to Church practice).

It would be sad to see such a great life end on such a sad note.