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Vatican on Vincent Lambert: Human dignity not compromised by “vegetative state”

© PHOTOPQR/L'UNION DE REIMS
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Taking away food and water is abandoning the patient

A patient in France, Vincent Lambert, is at the heart of a back-and-forth legal battle that has been ongoing for 10 years and recently intensified.

On Monday, food and water were briefly discontinued, and sedatives were beginning to be administered to Lambert, when a challenge passed a Paris court, and the hospital was ordered to again give Lambert food and water.

The appeal was given because the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities wants more time to review the case.

Meanwhile, the directors of two Vatican offices have weighed in, saying that solutions have to be found to protect Lambert’s life.

The Vatican statement (below) makes it clear that food and water are not “extraordinary care” as long as the person is “able to receive nutrition and hydration,” and “provided this does not cause intolerable suffering or prove damaging to the patient.”

For more detailed information on the Church’s teaching regarding end-of-life care, see here:

Lambert is being referred to as “France’s Terri Schiavo” in reference to a woman in Florida who was killed through the removal of food and water in 2005. Schiavo’s husband was at odds with her parents, with the parents seeking to continue to give Schiavo food and water. The same scenario is playing out in Lambert’s case, with his parents wanting to protect his life, while his wife and several of his siblings think food and water should be removed.

Here is the full statement from the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life; and the Pontifical Academy for Life:

In full agreement with the affirmations of the Archbishop of Reims, H.E. Msgr. Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, and the auxiliary bishop, H.E. Msgr. Bruno Feillet, in relation to the sad case of Mr. Vincent Lambert, we wish to reiterate the grave violation of the dignity of the person that the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration would constitute. Indeed, the “vegetative state” is certainly a burdensome pathological state, which however does not in any way compromise the dignity of those people who find themselves in this condition, nor does it compromise their fundamental rights to life and to care, understood as the continuity of basic human assistance.

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 person is able to receive nutrition and hydration, provided this does not cause intolerable suffering or prove damaging to the patient.

The suspension of such care represents, rather, a form of abandonment of the patient, based on a pitiless judgment of the quality of life, expression of a throwaway culture that selects the most fragile and helpless people, without recognizing their uniqueness and immense value. The continuity of assistance is an inescapable duty.

We therefore hope that solutions may be found as soon as possible to protect Mr. Lambert’s life. To this end, we assure the prayer of the Holy Father and all the Church.

Pope Francis weighed in indirectly with this tweet on Monday:

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