Just over a year ago I posted about the Vincent Lambert case when things were looking hopeful.
It seems that I have dropped the ball somewhat in the meanwhile. As near as I can figure out, the people who want him dead appealed to a higher court in France, which reversed the lower ruling and concluded that he should be dehydrated to death. His parents appealed to the Court of Human Rights, which fulfilled its glorious role as "the conscience of Europe" by...ruling that he should be dehydrated to death.
I don't have access to anything but the news stories, which contain very little detail. It's an old story. Lambert's wife claims that he "would not have wanted to live this way." There was a brief allusion to alleged "previous statements" of his, presumably reported by his wife. The only content I have been able to get for one of these is that his wife alleges that he told her he didn't agree with his parents' "Catholic" notion of the sanctity of life. And one news story says that some doctors think at one point he showed signs of "resisting being fed," which is more than a bit difficult to figure out, since it seems that he is being fed by a PEG tube, not by spoon. Moreover, it is illogical for those who want him dead to claim that he is in a "persistent vegetative state" (in fact, he was earlier and more accurately diagnosed as in a "minimally conscious state") while at the same time claiming that he knows enough about what is going on to desire not to be fed and hydrated.
And that's pretty much all I know as far as what evidence has been brought to show that he wants to die. Not that it should matter. Nobody should be able to dehydrate himself to death. There is really no doubt that Vincent Lambert is in a completely dependent state, not mentally competent, and simply needs to be cared for. Food and water are basic care, not treatment, and my reading on the earlier case indicated that the French legal system (unlike ours) actually used to recognize this fact. But that is changing now.
I am struck by a few things in this case, which is not to say that it is different from other, similar cases: First, the thinness of information given to support the claim that this is "what he wants." I believe that this indicates the "choice devours itself" pattern I have often noted. "He wouldn't have wanted to live like this" or "He would have wanted to die" is not supported by clear and convincing evidence, even if it mattered. It is a mantra more than a carefully drawn conclusion. It expresses and represents an attitude towards the disabled person, not knowledge. It certainly doesn't indicate any sort of informed consent to death by dehydration. Second, I am struck by the tenacity of those who want him dehydrated to death. There is something unseemly and creepy about pursuing a man's death through the courts like this. (And no, one cannot simply flip this around and say that it is similarly creepy and unseemly for his parents to continue trying to prevent his dehydration.) He is not actively dying. The word "life support" for nutrition and hydration is incorrect. Why not just leave him alone and let him live? Third, I am struck by the monotony of the use of "Catholic" or "devout Catholic" to describe Lambert's parents in news reports, as though the only objection one could have to dehydrating a man to death would arise from one's being Catholic, which is ridiculous. After a while of reading news stories one begins to get a feeling of poisoning the well, if not outright bigotry, from these repeated references to one side as "devoutly Catholic." Needless to say, there is no parallel reference to Lambert's wife as "passionately secular" or even "earnestly secular." It is a sign of the insanity of our times that the principle that we should give food and water to the helpless is treated as tantamount to a narrowly religious precept such as a prohibition on eating pork.
Naturally, there are all the usual calls for "writing down" your wishes. Well, I don't want to be too despairing. In some legal venues, that would help if you don't want to be dehydrated to death when you are helpless. In other places and times, it might not help so much. But do write down that you don't want to be dehydrated to death under any circumstances.
And pray for Vincent Lambert, now facing a gruesome death by court decree.