On 4 May 2019, the UN International Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) – to which the matter was referred by Vincent Lambert’s parents – asked France to suspend, “as a precautionary measure,” the decision to stop Vincent Lambert’s hydration and nutrition “while this case is investigated on its merits“.
“Although we are not legally bound by this committee, we do of course take into account what the UN has said and will be replying to them,” said the French health minister Agnès Buzyn. However, “the provisional measures requested by the CRPD are legally binding” since France has signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, thereby agreeing to comply with it.
Moreover, in contradiction with the comments made by the health minister – who suggested that since Vincent Lambert is “in a vegetative state” he does not come under “this committee, which deals with disabled people” – the medical officers confirmed that a patient “in a state of altered consciousness,” is indeed “disabled in the medical and legal sense“. Article 25 of the convention requires states to “provide those health services needed by persons with disabilities specifically because of their disabilities“. This means that states are forbidden to apply any “discriminatory denial of health care or health services or food and fluids on the basis of disability“. Article 26 of the convention adds that “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure access to health services, including rehabilitation services, for disabled people“.
Emmanuel Hirsch, director of Espace Éthique/IDF (Île-de-France centre for ethical reflection) and professor of medical ethics at the University of Paris-Sud’s faculty of medicine, is of the view that we should be “coherent and consistent“. Vincent Lambert “is not in intensive care,” he observed, and “should therefore enjoy the rights and appropriate care for a disabled person’s everyday comfort”. Last November, the French National Centre for Palliative and End-of-Life Care highlighted the “ethical confusion” between euthanasia and continuous deep sedation until death (CDSUD), which is now legal in France. “Surely continuous deep sedation until death is a kind of disguised euthanasia?” Hirsch asked.