Another tragedy struck France on July 11, 2019. In a case strikingly similar to that of Terri Schiavo, a brain damaged person has been dehydrated and starved to death at the request of their spouse. Vincent Lambert had suffered cranial trauma in a motorcycle accident in 2008, and his doctors and wife sought to have his feeding tube and IV liquids cut off since 2013. They finally succeeded in bringing about his death in 2019 after protracted legal battles.
Vincent’s parents and other family members sought to have him transferred home or to a rehabilitation hospital where the medical personnel was not determined to bring on his death. Because his wife sided with the doctors in the Reims Palliative Care hospital and she has Vincent’s medical proxy, they finally prevailed in cutting off all water and food, the only “medical treatments” he was receiving. The case had gone through different courts in France and to the European Court of Human Rights as well.
Pro-life groups mobilized as did the Church to defend Vincent Lambert from being killed. Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and Kevin Cardinal Farrell, Prefect of the new Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, put out a joint statement supporting the right to life of Vincent Lambert and the declaration by Reims Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort pleading that Lambert not be killed. They made a very important bioethical point: “Nutrition and hydration constitute a form of essential care, always proportionate to life support: to nourish a sick person never constitutes a form of unreasonable therapeutic obstinacy, as long as the organism of the person is able to receive nutrition and hydration, provided this does not cause intolerable suffering or prove damaging to the patient.” Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, tweeted as well: “On this sad day, I pray for the eternal repose of the soul of Vincent Lambert, who died as a martyr, a victim of the frightful madness of the men of our time. I pray for his family and especially for his parents, so brave, so worthy. Do not be afraid. God watches.”
Pope Francis tweeted the following message on July 11, 2019: “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.” Archbishop Paglia tweeted for his part prayers for the family and stated in French that the death of Vincent Lambert was “a defeat for our humanity.”
As recently as May 20th 2019 it seemed that Vincent was going to be reprieved at least until the appeal to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities could be heard. The French government then intervened and ordered the highest French appeals court to rule on the case, and they allowed the order to suspend all food and water to go forward resulting in Vincent Lambert’s death nine days later. It is a terrible precedent as several thousand patients in France are in a similar situation as Vincent Lambert and could now be killed as well.
Dr. Joseph Meaney, former Director of International Outreach and Expansion at HLI for many years, has recently been appointed Director of the National Catholic Bioethics Center.