The Potomac Declaration

Here at L.I.F.E. we can hardly contain our enthusiasm over the marvelous Potomac Declaration adopted last July at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo. The gathering drew more than eighty delegations, including dozens of minister-level representatives from around the world. It addressed challenges facing religious freedom, identified concrete means to address persecution of and discrimination against religious groups, and promoted greater respect for religious liberty for all, including a commitment to promote Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which declares:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.

Vice President Pence also attended, and announced the creation of the Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Program to “ensure that religious freedom and religious pluralism prosper across the Middle East as well.” The program will target development in the Nineveh plain in northern Iraq and ensure that U.S. aid is directed toward the minority Christian and Yazidi communities that were the most devastated by the ISIS genocide of recent years. It will balance the misallocation of U.N. aide – mostly supported by the United States – to ensure that the minority religious receive the assistance they need to restore their lives. U.S. Agency for International Development (US AID) Administrator Mark Green explained the troubled history that lead to the Genocide Recovery and Persecution plan in his remarks at the gathering. They offer a useful and poignant lesson in the realities of international relief funding – it’s not the money allocated; it’s how it is spent.

Pompeo also released the Potomac Plan of Action, which sets an ambitions agenda to 1) protect religious liberty, including related parental rights, 2) confront legal limitations on religious liberty, including the repeal of anti-blasphemy laws, 3) advance government advocacy for religious liberty, 4) aggressively respond to anti-religion motivate genocide and mass atrocity, and 5) preserve cultural heritage, and  6) establishing August 3, the first day of ISIS’s Sinjar massacre targeting Yazidis, as a nationally or internationally recognized day of remembrance of survivors of religious persecution.

Read up on these important steps to a more secure international respect for religious liberty. 

Euthanasie en Français (Euthanasia in French): The Dramatic Case of Vincent Lambert & the Case for Advance Directives

The heartbreaking case of Vincent Lambert has produced a consequential plea for urgent action by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.    This unexpected yet welcome development is the latest chapter in a French version of the Terry Schiavo case that riveted national attention in the United States in 2005. 

Vincent Lambert, 42, was critically injured in a motorcycle accident in 2008.  He sustained severe brain damage and has been diagnosed as being in persistent vegetative state (PVS), a condition that presumes no self-awareness and no conscious response to external stimuli. He requires assisted nutrition and hydration (ANH) in order to survive but he does not require a ventilator. 

Adding to the tragic circumstances is an intra-family dispute that pits his wife and some siblings against his parents and other siblings. The former want ANH withdrawn, asserting that he would not want it. The later insist that euthanasia must be rejected and ANH provided. The conflict is possible because Vincent never prepared what L.I.F.E. provides: an advance medical directive, or an appointment of health care representative. Even our short form directive would eliminate doubt as to the patient’s wishes and provide the necessary foundation to protect life. 

PVS is not a terminal illness. Nor is it a state of permanently unconscious. Patients in PVS experience waking and sleeping cycles, typically do not require a ventilator, and frequently open and close their eyes. Disputes and uncertainty persist as to the precise nature of the condition as well as the accuracy of diagnosis. But what is undisputed is that PVS is not a terminal condition. 

A 2016 French law applicable to terminally ill patients allows physicians to withdraw life sustaining treatment – including ANH – in purportedly hopeless cases while administering powerful sedatives until the patient dies from the lack of food and fluids. 

The European Court of Human Rights and France’s top administrative body had upheld the doctors’ earlier decision to stop Lambert’s life support. His parents filed a petition with the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and, according to news reports, a French court ordered that his feeding be resumed until the UN body resolves the petition filed in that forum.

In the media storm that surrounds the case there has emerged a strong statement from the Vatican. Consistent with a statement from Pope John Paul II in 2004 and a ruling on the issues from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2007 [link is in the bioethics library], the most recent Vatican statement affirms the essential norm that ANH is ordinary and proportionate care that must be provided to a PVS patient “as long as the person is able to receive nutrition and hydration, provided this does not cause intolerable suffering or prove damaging to the patient.”  It continues by stating that its “suspension … represents … a form of abandonment” and describes ANH in the specific context as “an inescapable duty.”