Court uphold doctors’ decision to feed and hydrate severely brain-injured Frenchman

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.

When last we reported on Vincent Lambert, doctors at a hospital in the northern French city of Reims announced , in an unexpected turn, that they had postponed withdrawing food and water from the severely brain-damaged Lambert. He’d been gravely injured in a motorbike accident in 2008.

It was the latest twist in a story whose climax had seemed depressingly inevitable. His wife and six of his siblings would prevail over his parents and the 38-year-old Frenchman would be starved and dehydrated to death.

The parents, Pierre and Viviane, adamantly deny he is in a so-called “persistent vegetative state” but is, in fact, responsive.

The most recent development came last week, according to a Radio France Internationale (RFI) story, when an unnamed French court upheld the hospital’s life-affirming decision.

The judges said Friday that Lambert’s doctors were within their rights, based on their “professional and moral independence,” to suspend an earlier court decision that would have seen them cut the intravenous food and water keeping him alive.

Who could make the decision to stop intravenous feeding? According to the court, that decision is to be made “solely by the doctor in charge of care.”

“The judges also ruled that the previous medical decision could not be imposed on a new doctor,” according to RFI.

An obviously unhappy nephew, Francois Lambert, told the AFP news agency, “This judgement throws the burden of responsibility back on to the doctor, who shrinks from the pressure from pro-life activists and members of Vincent’s family.”

The case has bitterly divided the family. Until the last minute, the wishes of Rachel, the wife, and six of Vincent’s eight siblings seemed sure to prevail.

The parents, supported by two of Lambert’s sisters and a half-brother, had lost consistently up to and including a June decision by the European Court of Human Rights that ending artificial nutrition and hydration did not violate Article 2 of the which guarantees the right to life.

But on July 23, the hospital issued a statement saying that “the conditions of calm and security necessary to continue this procedure are not in place, neither for Vincent Lambert nor his medical team.”

It was always known that the initial impetus in January 2014 to withdraw his food and fluids came from the medical team at the hospital. However according to expatica.com

[T]his decision was taken without consulting his parents, who then won a court application to stop the plan, calling it “akin to torture.”

A judge ruled the withdrawal breached his right to life. In the interim, Lambert miraculously survived 31 days with no food and very little water, according to Michael Cook.

The parents appealed to the State Council (the French supreme administrative court) which commissioned three doctors to determine Mr. Lambert’s condition.

In June 2014 they “ruled that withdrawing care from a person with no hope of recovery was lawful” under France’s 2005 “passive euthanasia” law. That conclusion was upheld in June by European Convention on Human Rights.

However, “Doctors launched a new consultation process after the [European Court of Human Right’s] decision, this time including his parents,” expatica.com reported.

“It’s a great relief,” said his mother, Viviane Lambert. “Because, at the hospital Vincent is in, the doctor has requested global protection from public prosecutor and now we must wait.”

Mrs. Lambert added, “So, that must mean people are recognising that our son is alive, since they want to protect him.”

And, as of last Friday, Vincent Lambert is safe. For now.