“Vincent Lambert was alive, he was leading a real life supported by nutrition and hydration, like everyone else. It shouldn’t have gone that far”. The Bishop of Montauban in France, Bernard Ginoux, lamented the death Thursday of Vincent Lambert, the Frenchman at the centre of a decade-long right-to-die battle, saying that the severely brain-damaged patient still ” had states of wakefulness and of sleep, he followed with his eyes. The fact that it took him ten days to die testifies to this: he had a vital force within him, which his parents tried to call attention to”.

Driving the news

Lambert died early Thursday morning nine days after doctors at Reims University Hospital turned off his life support. France’s top court had ordered June 28 that his feeding tubes be disconnected.

The 42-year-old man suffered a near-fatal car crash in 2008 that left him paralysed and suffering irreversible brain damage.

Over the past decade, many in France and around the world have been moved by the legal battle between his devoutly Catholic parents, who wanted him to be kept alive, and his wife, who argued he be allowed to die with dignity.

For the record

Lambert “is a martyr of our modern world”, Ginoux told SIR, and his death “is contrary to moral conscience, because killing is forbidden by law and by our Christian conscience, because we cannot act on God’s behalf”.

The Frenchman’s case “poses a great problem of civilization and by progressing with medically assisted procreation and cases similar to this one, France is slowly moving towards the alteration of  what is human”, continued the bishop.

“I think they didn’t want him to live long”, denounced Ginoux. “In France there is a strong pro- euthanasia lobby. They appealed against this case to claim that rather than making him die slowly, he should have been killed immediately, since it would have been better for him”.

Why it matters

“This is the prevailing line of thought of medical practice across hospitals in France, marked by a desire for dominance, to be lords of life and of death”, lamented the Bishop of Montauban.

“Oddly enough, death is being caused to avoid being confronted by failure. We are witnessing excessive medicalization, as in pregnancies: when the smallest detail is off-balance, if something is detected, the woman is forced to have an abortion. It’s a systematic process. Similarly, when a patient can no longer be treated, the medical world wants to make him/her disappear, as if it were a medical failure”.

Ginoux also denounced the fact that “1,500 people in France are in the same situation as Lambert”, and that the case sets a “precedent for similar situations in the near future”.

Go deeper

Ginoux’s condemnation of Lambert’s “outrageous” death is a judgment shared by many in the Church. Pope Francis, for example, prayed on Twitter that “God the Father welcome Vincent Lambert in His arms”, criticising the Frenchman’s passing as a step towards a civilisation “that discards persons whose lives we no longer consider to be worthy of living”. “Every life is valuable, always”, insisted the Pope.

Just last month, however, one important Catholic voice offered a dissenting perspective. The French prelate Bruno-Marie Duffé, secretary of the Vatican Dicastery (department) for Promoting Integral Human Development, argued for what he called a “therapeutic vision” in Lambert’s case.

“We are called to care, but when it is not possible to do so, we must respect the death of the person”, said Duffé. “… [I]n this case, we are not dealing with a therapy, we are seeing a person who depends on a machine, on an external treatment, which supposes a totally artificial life. That is, it is an unjustifiable situation”.

“Each one of us is called to live and to die”, continued Duffé. “In this case, we are facing a technocratic model, because we have the means to continue a life that is not life. We’re turning this life and this person into an… object. It is, therefore, a case of lack of respect for the person, his wife and his loved ones. Also, we must respect the doctors who have provided this care for many years”, insisted Duffé.

“It’s an interesting and very important debate. But when a person depends on a machine for more than ten years, it can be said that it is neither worthy nor human; it’s inhuman”, declared the prelate.