(Life Site News) Vincent Lambert, known as France’s Terri Schiavo, has lost his last possible legal recourse in his home country against a medical decision ordering slow euthanasia.
The efforts to save the live of the minimally conscious, tetraplegic 42-year-old man by his parents and two siblings will go no further in French jurisdictions after the Conseil d’Etat (Council of State) decided Tuesday that Lambert must in his own “interests” be deprived of food and fluids and placed under deep sedation until he dies.
Pierre and Viviane Lambert and two of their children appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, which will decide whether their case is admissible. But in a previous ruling, the ECHR already decided in 2015 that a decision to make Vincent die of thirst and hunger was in line with the European Convention of Human Rights, whose member states are free to decide that artificial feeding and hydration can be defined as “treatment,” not “care.”
There is little hope at this stage that the European Court will accept the case, and its decision is expected to be handed down soon.
In a last-ditch attempt, a second international appeal was made to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (OHCHR) that verifies compliance with the convention of the same name ratified by France in 2010.
The OHCSR will also rule on the appeal’s admissibility as a first step. In practice, if not in law, the death decision will not be executed before then. The decision is also expected to be suspended if the OHCCSR agrees to examine the Lambert’s appeal.
Lambert lived through a first attempt to starve him to death in 2013, surviving for 31 days without food and very little liquids. Doctors aiming to put an end to his life said “at the time” that they didn’t really know how to proceed in these cases. But under recent new protocols fixed by law, no fluids are given leading rapidly to death by dehydration – or thirst, to put it bluntly.
A complicated sequence of medical decisions, judiciary appeals and staff renewals at the hospital in Reims, where Lambert has been virtually kept him in a locked room in a palliative care unit since then, gave him a five-year respite.
But during the same period, legislative efforts have been made to facilitate “end-of-life decisions” involving terminal sedation together withdrawal of feeding tubes and hydration. [Below is a video from 2015, explaining more of the legal fight between Vincent’s wife and his parents.]
According to the new “Leonetti-Claeys” law that came into effect in 2016, among others in order to deal with patients like Lambert, all adults residing in France can leave advance directives asking for terminal sedation if they are no longer able to express their will and find themselves in a deeply handicapped condition. Those who are able to express their will can demand terminal sedation and doctors must comply, giving a whole new meaning to “patient autonomy.”
According to the law, treatments that are deemed “useless” or that are or would be the result of “unreasonable obstinacy,” can be refused in any case by a doctor when a person is no longer able to express his or her own will. The doctor’s decision follows a legal “collegial procedure” during which the doctor is required to consult that person’s designated representative, or if not available the patient’s family and friends, as well as other doctors and caregivers. But at the end, the doctor decides.
In the Lambert case, several end-of-life decisions were made under different legal regimes, with the approval of Vincent’s wife, Rachel. But at the end, a doctor at the Reims university hospital decided not to apply the end-of-life procedure.
Things would have rested there if a new head of palliative care at Reims university hospital had not been named in 2017. Dr. Pierre Sanchez decided to open a new end-of-life procedure in September 2017 at the request of one of Vincent’s nephews, François Lambert, son of his half-sister. This young man was not particularly close to his half-uncle, but he has actively campaigned for Vincent’s death and has been known to give public talks organized by the French euthanasia society, Association pour le droit de mourir dans la dignité.
It is this decision that has been approved by the Conseil d’Etat after 1½ years of judiciary twists and turns.
In particular, the Conseil d’Etat ordered an expert report on Vincent Lambert’s condition.
Its mode of nomination and functioning was challenged by the Lambert’s legal team, Jean Paillot, Jérôme Triomphe and Claire Le Bret, who remarked that the doctors involved had no expertise with minimally conscious patients and were not familiar with the treatment they require, including physiotherapy that was denied to Vincent since 2012.
Seventy doctors, specialists and caregivers signed a public appeal in favor of Vincent, saying his status could not be assessed properly without appropriate care given in a specialized unit for minimally conscious brain-damaged patients, several of which had repeatedly accepted to take up Vincent over the last years. They spoke of “disguised euthanasia.”
Wife Rachel, hospital authorities in Reims and successive judges refused for him to be moved. Instead, Vincent was kept under lock and key in his hospital room. His visiting list and times were severely restricted and even his own parents were obliged to leave their ID card at the nurses’ desk in order to be allowed to see their own son.
The Council of State swept away all of these arguments.
It also rejected the statement by the experts who, while considering Vincent to be in a “vegetative state” and claiming that his condition had worsened since the last expert assessment in 2014, said his treatment, including artificial food and fluids, could not be considered to fall within the category of “unreasonable obstinacy.”
The Council of State failed to mention this fact in its ruling, instead saying it was necessary to take “non-medical” facts into account in order to assess “unreasonable obstinacy.” The administrative judges said they took into account what was known about Lambert’s “personality” as well as reports by Rachel that she had had conversations with Vincent about his rejection of prolonged treatment for severely handicapped, “vegetative” people.
The judges agreed that he would “probably” have preferred not to live in the state in which he now finds himself – even though his survival after 30 days without food and very little fluids in 2013 does not exactly reveal a death wish.
Apart from the fundamental transgression that occurs when ordinary care is withdrawn from a patient in order to make him die, whether that is his will or not, the Lambert case rests on suppositions.
Lambert has in fact become a symbol of the culture of death’s efforts to make “mercy killing” possible. Whether or not it is called euthanasia, it aims to allow the elimination of the unfit under the appearance of “benevolence” (a word used by the Conseil d’Etat) toward the patient.
Jérome Triomphe told LifeSite that the Council of State was “an absolute scandal; the experts had written that there was no unreasonable obstinacy, but the Council didn’t even mention that.”
“Once again, the Sanhedrin has voted for the death of an innocent,” he told LifeSite.
Editor’s Note: This article was published at Life Site News and is reprinted here with permission.
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