Bioethics News

European court allows “vegetative” patient to be starved to death

Doctors have been given permission to remove food and water from Vincent Lambert, a severely brain-damaged, 38-year-old Frenchman. After a long legal battle, the European Court of Human Rights ruled last week that  ending artificial nutrition and hydration did not violate Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to life.

Like the Terri Schiavo case, the fate of Mr Lambert, who was injured in a car accident seven years ago, has pitted his parents against his wife. In this case, his wife Rachel says that he would not want to be kept alive in a vegetative state. She is supported by six of his siblings. His parents, however, deny that he is in a vegetative state and are supported by two of Lambert’s sisters and a half-brother, have vowed to fight on to keep him alive. They claim that he is responsive.

This week the controversy erupted again when a supporter of the parents released a video which purported to show Vincent responding to his mother’s voice. Doctors were outraged. His former doctor said that this proved nothing. “These patients in a vegetative state react to their environments but it is a vegetative response,” he said. “This video is an attack on his dignity and his right to privacy – it’s manipulative and plays on people’s emotions.”

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In 2013 a lower court allowed doctors to discontinue treatment. Lambert lasted 31 days without food and very little water before a judge ruled that this breached his right to life.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.