After the family of a French disabled man lost another battle to try to stop a hospital from removing his food and water, doctors started starving Vincent Lambert to death. But a last-minute intervention by the courts ordered doctors to resume feeding the disabled man.
The court ordered authorities “to take all measures” to keep alive Vincent Lambert, a 42-year-old quadriplegic with severe brain damage who has been in a vegetative state for a decade, pending a review by the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities.
Lambert’s mother, Viviane, 73, hailed the ruling as “a very big victory” in her struggle to maintain vital medical care for her son.
On Monday, his mother told AFP: “They were starting to eliminate Vincent! This is a very big victory. They are going to restore nutrition and give him drink. For once I am proud of the courts.”
Lambert’s family has been battling in court for years over his medical care. Medical experts say he breathes on his own and his organs are functioning normally. His mother, Viviane Lambert, said Vincent also “looks at me” and attempts to “vocalize at length.” But courts have ruled that University Hospital of Reims may remove his food and water against his parents’ wishes.
In 2008, Lambert was in a motorcycle accident that caused brain damage. In 2015, his wife petitioned the court to have all treatment and care ceased including food and water. His parents urged that their son be transferred to a rehabilitation center. Though his parents are fighting for his life, his wife and some other family members believe he has no quality of life and should be taken off food and water.
Doctors started switching off his life support at the Sebastopol Hospital in the northern French city of Reims following a final judicial ruling to halt nutrition and hydration. Without these, he could die “within days”, said medical sources.
Jean Paillot, the lawyer for Mr Lambert’s parents, had said he would seek to reverse the decision at the Paris court of appeal and the criminal court of Reims.
The European Court of Human Rights on Monday rejected a last-ditch appeal, saying there were “no new elements” to the case that could lead it to reverse a previous ruling.
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“They are monsters! Monsters!” said his mother Viviane, 73, outside the hospital on Monday. The previous day, she had organised a demonstration outside with her husband Pierre, 90.
Pope Francis on Monday also issued veiled criticism, saying that “those who live with severe illness” should have life protected until “its natural end”.
“We pray for those who live with severe illness,” the pope tweeted.
“Let us always safeguard life, God’s gift, from its beginning until its natural end. Let us not give in to a throwaway culture.”
Francois-Xavier Bellamy, who leads the list of the mainstream Right party, The Republicans, said he “could not understand the hurry” and called on President Emmanuel Macron to suspend the decision. It would, he added, have repercussions on the 1,500 other patients in similar situations in France.
Macron’s office is currently tabulating calls for or against saving Vincent. Call +33142928100 and say “Je téléphone pour sauver la vie de Vincent Lambert.”
In 2015, according to the publication thelocal.fr (a French newspaper printed in English), “Some of his friends and family who are against taking the man off life support uploaded a video to YouTube … that they claim shows Lambert responding to them.” Watch the video here.
Commenting on the case in 2018, Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said the case amounts to euthanasia.
“To intentionally kill a person by withdrawing fluids, when the person is not otherwise dying is euthanasia by dehydration since the person is directly and intentionally killed by dehydration,” Schadenberg said.
“I entrust to your prayer persons such as Vincent Lambert in France, little Alfie Evans in England, and others in several countries who live, sometimes for a long time, in a state of grave illness, assisted medically for their primary needs,” the pope said.
Pope Francis said the situations are “delicate”, “painful” and “complex,” but he urged society to respect the value of every human life.
Many have compared Lambert’s case to that of Terri Schindler Schiavo in America.
Research in 2018 by the renowned American Academy of Neurology found that about four in 10 people who are thought to be unconscious are actually aware. They estimated the misdiagnosis rate is about 40 percent for people with severe brain injuries, including those diagnosed as persistent vegetative state (PVS), and noted that the misdiagnosis can lead to inappropriate treatment and poor outcomes.
A hopeful sign, approximately one in five people with severe brain injury from trauma will recover with proper treatment – many to the point that they can live at home and care for themselves without help, according to the academy.