French Hospital Opens Wine Bar for Terminally Ill Patients

Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo credit: Samantha Nicol/Getty

It’s been said that the French know how to live. Well, some might say it seems they know how to die, too.

The Clermont-Ferrand University Hospital in central France will soon open a wine bar—yes, a wine bar—for its terminally ill patients, who will be allowed to partake in medically supervised tastings with family and friends. For Dr. Virginie Guastella, who came up with the idea, the program is about improving her patients’ quality of life in their final days.

"Why should we deprive people reaching the end of their lives of the traditional flavors of our land?" Guastella said, according to The Telegraph. She’ll offer local wines, whiskey, and Champagne.

Though drinking red wine may be healthy, at least in moderation, the notion of a hospital serving it seems downright weird in the United States, where medical institutions aren’t exactly known for tasty—or quaffable, for that matter—fare.

But it’s not an unheard of practice. Veronica McLymont, director of food and nutrition services of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, told us that while different hospitals have varying on-premises drinking policies, “if a patient has a dying wish, or the doctor doesn’t see any potential adverse effect on a patient having a drink of wine or a beer, it’s been done.” That said, she hadn’t ever heard of anyone opening a wine bar on hospital premises before.

And Sloan Kettering may be a special case: It’s among the few hospitals leading the charge to improve hospital cuisine. “We consider food as medicine,” McLymont said, adding that hospital chefs go to great lengths to create meals that fulfill a patient’s medical and emotional needs, such as the Black Angus beef short ribs braised in red wine ragu, which will be offered in a few weeks.

"It’s not just trying to figure out how we meet mealtime, but that the food is attractive, that it’s plated well. We use china, and our servers are well dressed and will go in and present the meal." The kitchen also sources organic ingredients, and offers a room service-like program that delivers meals and snacks on demand between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Tasty food served in a restaurant-like manner may encourage patients with diminished or altered appetites to eat, which may ultimately benefit their recovery, McLymont said. But it’s also beneficial for patients with terminal illnesses.

"If someone is terminally ill, our task is to do as much as we can to make that experience comfortable, if there is such a thing," McLymont stressed. "We would want to give them something that they really desire. Restriction is not something that will help someone die with dignity and comfort.”