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Fate of severely brain-damaged Frenchman hangs by a thread

by | Jul 23, 2015

By Dave Andrusko

(Reuters/Vincent Kessler/Files) Viviane Lambert, the mother of Vincent Lambert, at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, 7 January 2015.

(Reuters/Vincent Kessler/Files) Viviane Lambert, the mother of Vincent Lambert, at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, 7 January 2015.

The Catholic News Agency  (CNA) is reporting that a final decision may be made today in the case of Vincent Lambert, a severely brain-damaged, 38-year-old Frenchman, whose parents are fighting to prevent their son from being  starved and dehydrated to death.

Depending on the time and the story, Mr. Lambert has been described alternatively as a “quadriplegic,” “in a vegetative state,” “severely brain damaged,” “in a serious and irreversible vegetative state,” and in a “paraplegic state,” as if these were equivalent and interchangeable descriptions.

In 2013 Mr. Lambert miraculously survived 31 days with no food and very little water. After a judge ruled  this breached his right to life, the French supreme administrative court, known as the State Council, “ordered three doctors to draw up a report on Lambert’s condition and in June ruled that the decision to withdraw care from a man with no hope of recovery was lawful,” according to reporter Henry Samuel.

The State Council subsequently concluded Mr. Lambert’s food and nutrition could be removed.

Lambert’s parents then took the case to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which ordered France to keep Lambert alive while they deliberated on whether the State Council’s decision was in line with the European Convention on Human Rights. Unfortunately, the Court ruled that ending artificial nutrition and hydration did not violate Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to life.

How did it get around the law in France, where euthanasia is illegal?  An appeal to France’s 2005 “passive euthanasia law.” As Michael Cook observed

the court reasoned that withdrawing “life-sustaining treatment” was not directly causing his death and that therefore this could not be regarded as euthanasia. …

The CNA reported yesterday that Bishop Thierry Scherrer of Laval, France, and the Bioethics Committee of his diocese “are pleading with doctors at a hospital in Reims not to end the life of a young quadriplegic man.” In urging the medics to respect Mr. Lambert’s life, they said

“Human life is a gift from God, and doctors are at its service. The omnipotence that technology gives us has to respect this limit.”

They added that “Life is a precious gift and the attitude that society adopts towards life is everyone’s concern,” and asked that Mr. Lambert not become  “the hostage of a cause or an ideology” that disrespects life.

As Cook reported,

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, and have vowed to fight on to keep him alive. They claim that he is responsive.

   Adding to the drama was a video uploaded onto You Tube by Lambert’s friends and family which they insisted showed Lambert responding to them. You can watch the video online.

According to a French newspaper printed in English

In the video, Emmanuel Guépin, one of Lambert’s friends, speaks of how the patient is “responding” to his surroundings. Lambert’s mother is heard on the phone telling him “the news is not good”, referring to the ruling from the European court.

Guépin notes later that Lambert “reacts very strongly” to his brother with facial expressions

   Very much worth noting is that the legal tug of war began in 2014 when six of Lambert’s siblings and his wife, Rachel, backed Dr. Eric Kariger’s request to withdraw food and fluid.

Dr. Kariger’s response to the video? Joy that his patient appeared to be recovering? Guess again.

“It’s manipulative. It’s disrespectful to the patient, his wife, and their daughter, who are unable to mourn because of the relentlessness that’s coming from his own family.”

Bishop Scherrer and the Bioethics Committee of his diocese warned

that if the European court’s ruling is carried out, many other patients in the same situation as Lambert could be at risk of becoming victims of euthanasia.

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