NEW YORK, July 11, 2019—Vincent Lambert, a French man who suffered brain damage and was hospitalized following an accident several years ago, has died. Mr. Lambert’s wife and doctors petitioned authorities to remove food and drink (nutrition through a feeding tube) and hasten his death. After numerous court proceedings, led by other family members protesting the measure, the hospital sedated him and removed his feeding tubes. After nine days without food or water, Mr. Lambert died.
Mr. Lambert was not receiving extraordinary medical assistance to live; he was able to breathe on his own, and to process food and water provided to him. Although French law bans direct euthanasia, it allows doctors and family members to sedate and remove food and water from those with disabilities or severe illness, despite ethical principles against allowing surrogate decision-makers to refuse nutrition on behalf of patients who cannot themselves refuse. Providing food and water to those unable to provide them for themselves constitutes ordinary care for the preservation of life. Refusing to give these essentials for life to a person who cannot nourish himself in order to hasten death violates justice and is wrong.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recently agreed to examine Mr. Lambert’s case. Although the Committee’s examination will now be moot, its interest reflects the concern of disability rights activists. Many disability rights groups oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide, recognizing that it further discriminates, and reduces basic human protections for people with disabilities.
Mr. Lambert’s disability was clearly a decisive factor in the decision to discontinue his food and water. Under other circumstances, a caregiver or family member who refused to provide food and water to a dependent person would be before the court as a defendant, not have their action endorsed by authorities. As WYA’s Declaration on Human Dignity and Bioethics states, “[p]ermitting such practices violates the dignity of those most vulnerable, due to age, disability, or other conditions and characteristics, by equating it with personal utility and ability. … We affirm that the person is a source of creativity and is never a burden but at every stage of life contributes to the common good of society by virtue of his or her existence.”
World Youth Alliance opposes the medical, social, and legal practices, attitudes, and procedures which led to Vincent Lambert being deliberately starved to death. WYA and its members recommit themselves, in collaboration with healthcare providers, policymakers, and society as a whole, to defending the basic needs of all people, particularly those who are most vulnerable.
Read more about this in WYA’s Declaration on Human Dignity and Bioethics.