Fate of brain-injured man in hands of hospital, French court rules

By Dave Andrusko

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.

My apologies. Last week I saw this story from the Sun Daily updating the courageous fight to save Vincent Lambert but inadvertently neglected it until today.

There is not a lot of new information in the story, and while incomplete, what there is, is hugely important.

Last October when we last reported on the 39-year-old Frenchman, the Radio France Internationale (RFI) had just reported that an unnamed French court had upheld the life-affirming decision of a hospital in the northern French city of Reims not to starve Lambert to death.

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.

In 2008 Lambert suffered severe brain injuries in a motorbike accident. His parents adamantly insisted their son is not in a persistent vegetative state but Lambert’s wife and six of his eight siblings were determined to end his food and water.

Paraphrasing what the court said (and tilting the discussion), the Sun Daily’s lead paragraph reads that the court had “ordered doctors to decide whether a patient in a vegetative state should be allowed to die after years of legal battles.”

Later, the story softened the tone of its reportage. It said that a French court had ordered the doctors caring for Lambert to “resume consultations with medical experts and come to a decision over his fate.”

The decision “only means that the collaborative process must resume (but) without bias as to the outcome,” the court said in a statement.

But, as noted, the parents adamantly insist Vincent is not in a PVS and put out a video they say shows he is responsive. (See thelocal.fr.)

Background

The parents, supported by two of Lambert’s sisters and a half-brother, had lost consistently up to and including a June 2014 decision by the European Court of Human Rights that ending artificial nutrition and hydration did not violate Article 2 of European Convention of Human Rights 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 Vincent’s 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. As noted above, that conclusion was upheld 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, at last July. “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.”