The Euthanasia of Vincent Lambert: Reactions of the Catholic Hierarchy

May 23, 2019
Archbishop Moulins-Beaufort

While the doctors of the University Hospital of Reims (France) have chosen to put an end to Vincent Lambert’s artificial nutrition and hydration, the reactions of the Catholic hierarchy have been multiplying.

The elected president of the Bishops’ Conference of France, Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort has equivocated, saying that “in the face of such situations, no human decision can be guaranteed to be perfect”...For their part, the Bishops’ Conference of France, through the person in charge of the bioethics group, requested that they not suspend Vincent Lambert’s food and hydration.

They are relying on the rule of law, recalling that France “has ratified the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” and that it must respect the opinion of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, who have asked that care not be suspended, pending the committee’s review of his file.

As for the ethical aspect, the bishops support their argument with the fact that “the State has not decided on the ethical decision itself,” and that it does not have the power to do so. They ask pertinent questions: “Why was Mr. Lambert not transferred to a care unit adapted to his condition? Does it imply his suffering is impossible to alleviate? Does he not have the right to be fed and hydrated, basic care to which every human being is entitled? In what exceptional case does his current hydration and nutrition correspond to unreasonable obstinacy?”

The Vatican then intervened through the pen of Fr. Roberto Colombo, a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and professor of medicine and surgery. “Ceasing hydration and nutrition means cutting the electrical current that allows our nervous system to control the good functioning of our body,” he wrote in l’Osservatore Romano, on May 19, 2019. Such a decision remains “unacceptable and unworthy of a society based on respect and welcome of each person’s life,” even if a law or a sentence would authorize this action.

On May 20, 2019, Pope Francis stated: “We pray for those who live with severe disability. Let us always safeguard life, God’s gift, from its beginning until its natural end. Let us not give in to a throwaway culture,” at the moment when Vincent Lambert's euthanasia process began.

Finally, Archbishop Aupetit of Paris issued a statement making a well-chosen parallel between Vincent Lambert and pilot Michael Schumacher who are in very similar states. He then condemned the advanced state of moral decay in the field of euthanasia advanced by countries like Belgium and the Netherlands, which should not be taken as models. He finally explains that Vincent Lambert does not under any circumstances fall under the Leonetti law [France’s end-of-life law].

These interventions unfortunately do not always have the strength that one could expect and the justifications given are not always very clear. Ethical reflection is certainly not insignificant, but it often lacks the clear and emphatic teaching of divine law.