by Leo Thuman
On July 11, French citizen Vincent Lambert passed away after being deprived of food and water for nine days by the hospital where he was being cared for.
An order two weeks earlier from France’s Court of Cassation, the country’s highest court of appeal, to halt his feeding turned out to be a death sentence for Lambert. It overturned a previous decision in a Court of Appeal to return feeding tubes and water to the 42-year-old, who has been in a vegetative state since suffering a tragic motorcycle crash in 2008.
His devout Catholic parents spent years fighting to raise awareness about his predicament. They had gone through most avenues available in the French legal system to save him. They even went before the European Court of Human Rights, who declined to hold their son’s human rights in any regard. However, they were eventually forced to accept the reality that their government would starve their son to death in a process known as ‘conscious deep sedation.’
For years, French law protected disabled people like Lambert from having life support withdrawn by “doctor’s orders.” That changed when the Claeys-Leonetti Law was passed by France’s National Assembly in 2016. In building support for the law, advocates had drawn attention to cases in which terminally ill patients consciously consented to have life-prolonging treatments discontinued. Yet, the law’s consequences have moved well beyond ‘choice’ and consent — as this tragic case demonstrates.
The language of the Claeys-Leonetti Law permits ending the life of a person who, with no end-of-life instructions, enters a long-term coma. The law also prohibits “unreasonable obstinancy” in therapeutics, authorizing “the withholding or withdrawal of treatments” in many cases, including when they have “no other effect than solely the artificial preservation of life.” This means that hospitals and doctors are not only in certain cases obligated to act against their consciences but also are empowered to decide against the will of a patient or their family to end a patient’s life.
France has a mostly-socialized system of hospitals, with a vast majority being state or community operated. These hospitals are more likely to take advantage of the French law which allows doctors to choose, of their own volition, to remove artificial life support from patients in vegetative states. Like the majority of the French, Lambert received treatment in one of these public hospitals.
Systems of socialized medicine are notoriously plagued by shortages. They are also prone to long wait times. Observers of European politics know that these issues turn medical treatment into a political football — poor administration of healthcare which is slow and scarce makes for angry voters. Understandably, this threatens any party’s hold on government unless they fix those issues. As medical elitism takes root, and laws erode the sanctity of life, it is terrifying what can be put on the chopping block for the sake of political efficacy.
In addition, life-sustaining treatment is incredibly expensive. In a system prone to shortages and waits, ending expensive life-support — which could continue for years — becomes a fiscal decision rather than a medical one. What was once decided by the family is now decided by doctors and administrators interested in conserving resources and cutting costs.
This situation should serve as an omen of what American healthcare could look like in the future. Disturbingly, momentum is gathering behind the American Left’s long-term goal of establishing socialized healthcare. Grimly, the proposed “Medicare-for-all” system advocated by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and many other Democratic presidential candidates ensures even more state-control over healthcare than in the mixed French system.
Vincent Lambert’s execution became a reality in France, where leaders are tolerant enough of diverse views on medical ethics to protect the conscience rights of doctors who refuse to perform abortions. One can only imagine what would happen in the United States, where the Left is currently attempting to eliminate even those protections. The implications of even a mixed French style system is downright frightening when one considers that under President Obama, the federal government tried to compel insurers to cover abortion and sex-change operations.
Fortunately, America doesn’t have a system where administrative executions of profoundly disabled people like Vincent Lambert are possible. Instead, supply strives to meet demand, and if someone wants care, there are many programs — public and private, nonprofit and profit-based — where they can receive it. While this system is imperfect, it ensures we do not have to erode provider rights and patient rights in critical situations where life and death are concerned. America’s healthcare system, with few exceptions, preserves the moral boundary that France’s law violates.
However, the dominant progressive narrative might lead some to think that Lambert died because he didn’t have insurance or because of bedeviled free market healthcare. In fact, the truth is quite the opposite: A government seeking to operate an efficient medical bureaucracy killed him. A government passing laws which define belief in human dignity as “obstinacy” and allowing medical elitism to supersede those beliefs killed him.
We are blessed in America not to have that kind of government — at least for the time being.