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Media Call Vincent Lambert’s Death a ‘Right to Die’ Case

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

The media are reporting that one Frenchman's case represented a “right to die” fight. But, in their language, they’re overlooking that his story stood for something else: the right to live.

On July 11, outlets broke the news that 42-year-old Vincent Lambert had passed away after being denied food and water for nine days. Left a quadriplegic with serious brain damage after a traffic accident more than 10 years ago, Lambert needed a feeding tube, but could breathe on his own. He was heavily sedated by French doctors as he died, in a move that divided not only France but also Lambert’s family.

As devout Catholics, his parents fought for their son as a disabled man. Lambert’s wife, Rachel, argued that he would have wanted to die if his life meant being in a “vegetative state.” His siblings were divided too – as well as French citizens, the courts, and even international leaders.

His plight, media outlets reported, represented the “right to die.”

Following his death, a New York Times headline announced, “Vincent Lambert, Frenchman at Center of Right-to-Die Case, Dies at 42.” 

He passed away “after an intense family dispute over his fate that led to years of legal battles and put him at the center of right-to-die debates,” wrote reporter Aurelien Breeden.

A CBS headline also recognized the “man at the center of right-to-die debate in France.” For CNN, writers remembered the man “whose case had come to symbolize France's right-to-die debate.”

But others stressed that Lambert’s case was more so about the right to live – and the intrinsic value of life.

While president Emmanuel Macron refused to intervene, Pope Francis voiced his position on Twitter. On July 10, the pontiff tweeted, “We pray for the sick who are abandoned and left to die.”

“A society is human if it protects life, every life, from its beginning to its natural end, without choosing who is worthy to live or who is not,” he urged. “Doctors should serve life, not take it away.”

A day later, following Lambert’s death, he prayed, “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.”

Catholic Church doctrine teaches that “Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate.” But nutrition and hydration are usually considered “ordinary” rather than “extraordinary.” Catholics draw the distinction between whether a withdrawal of food and water allows someone to die or actually kills the person. The latter is forbidden.

Others also chimed in. 

Alongside the pope, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, tweeted, “We are all God’s children, made in His image. We must respect the dignity and sanctity of human life, regardless of race, economic status, or condition.”

EWTN host Matt Swaim typed, “Vincent Lambert was not ‘taken off life support.’ He was starved and dehydrated for a week by the state until he died.”

“If this were suggested as a form of capital punishment, it would be rejected by the courts as cruel and unusual,” he concluded.

Pro-life leaders also chimed in. 

Commentator and author Obianuju Ekeocha added, “#VincentLambert has been killed by French court order. I repeat, Vincent Lambert has been killed.”

Lila Rose, the founder and president of pro-life group Live Action tweeted, “May he Rest In Peace. And may all of us who are living—who have the health and freedom to speak—work tirelessly so that this crime against humanity is never committed again.”

Days before, she called his treatment “horrific.”

“Food, water are basic necessities. Starving or dehydrating a patient to death is immoral & barbaric,” she stressed. In another tweet, she repeated, “Food & water are basic necessities-NOT ‘life support.’ We don’t even treat animals this way.”

One American News chief White House correspondent Emerald Robinson shared a video of “More than 1,500 people” who “gathered in silence at this church to mourn the death of Vincent Lambert - murdered by the French authorities by starvation.”

“May God bless him and keep him,” she added.

That’s because death, after all, just marks the end of life here on Earth.

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