UN committee saves brain-damaged Frenchman from death by hunger, thirst
May 3, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – France’s Terri Schiavo, Vincent Lambert, is not dead yet. While the mainstream press has been rejoicing these last few days over a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decision declaring his family’s appeal inadmissible, a thunderclap has occurred. The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) this Friday requested the French government to take measures to avoid implementation of the recent decision of the Council of State asking that Lambert be deprived of food and fluids and deeply sedated until death.
Technically speaking, Vincent Lambert, 42, a tetraplegic man who has been in a minimally conscious state for eight years since he underwent brain injury in a car accident has gained a reprieve. It could even be called a stay of execution for this man who is neither at the end of his life nor dependent on extraordinary medical treatment to stay alive.
The CRPD has accepted to examine the case fully.
Pierre and Viviane Lambert, his parents, as well as two of his siblings, called on the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a ultimate recourse, all other judiciary procedures having failed at the end of a harrowing six-year period during which Vincent seemed more than once to have lost the battle for his life.
In the two latest stages of this fight, decisions went in the direction of “slow euthanasia.” The French highest administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat, ruled last week that Pierre Simon, the head of the palliative care department where Lambert is virtually imprisoned at Reims hospital, had the right to decide that Vincent would have wanted to benefit from an end-of-life procedure even though his will was doubtful and he was no longer in a position to make it known.
On April 30, the European Court of Human Rights rejected appeals on behalf of Vincent’s life as it had already done previously in 2015. This was more or less what Lambert’s lawyers were expecting, as Jérôme Triomphe told LifeSite, although the decision did mean that the ECHR also refused to examine their recourse on the grounds of their not having obtained the due process in their case.
The CRPD’s decision is truly a slap in the face of both the Conseil d’Etat and the European Court of Human Rights whose own rulings have been exposed as potentially violating the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Vincent's case was brought before the CRPD last Monday.
Its decision was returned quicker than expected: not only has it accepted to examine Vincent’s situation and the decision to make him die of thirst and hunger under deep sedation, it has also issued a provisional measures ruling demanding that the French state abstain from implementing a decision to stop his food and hydration, pending its own ruling which is expected not to be handed down before several years.
“The only international body specializing in the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities will now decide on the conformity of the decisions of Dr Vincent Sanchez of the Reims University Hospital, the Châlons-en-Champagne Administrative Court and the Conseil d'Etat with the international commitments entered into by France for the protection of people with disabilities,” stated Jérôme Triomphe and Jean Paillot in a statement.
"This is obviously a great relief for Vincent Lambert's parents, brother and sister who are confidently awaiting the examination of their request,” their statement continued.
Jérôme Triomphe told LifeSite – with a whoop of joy – that as a lawyer, these are the decisions that make his job worthwhile. Together with Jean Paillot, with the support of many experts in the field of brain-damaged patients and also the Fondation Jérôme-Lejeune and the AGRIF (a French and Christian defense league), he has carried this affair from the start, seeking all possible means to save Vincent’s life.
Viviane Lambert, Vincent’s mother, put her relief in a nutshell when speaking to LifeSite about the victory: “Deo gratias. Thank God…”
In a statement, Gregor Puppinck of the European Center for Law and Justice, said:
On 3 May 2019, in response to a request from Mr. Vincent Lambert's parents, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRDP) requested the French Government to take the necessary measures to ensure that Mr. Vincent Lambert's enteral feeding and hydration is not suspended while his case is being processed by the Committee. This procedure could take several years before the Committee takes a decision.
This ‘precautionary measure’ was taken to ‘avoid irreparable damage to the victims of the alleged violation,’ in accordance with the terms of the treaty by which France agreed to submit to the Committee's jurisdiction (Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, article 4). By ratifying this treaty, the French government undertook, in accordance with the rules of international law, to respect in good faith this procedure and its outcome. It is now up to the French government to notify the University Hospital of Reims of their obligation to maintain Mr. Vincent Lambert's enteral feeding and hydration.
If the Government should wish to object to these provisional measures, the Committee's Rules allow it to ‘put forward arguments to explain that the request for provisional measures should be withdrawn’ (Rule 64.3),” explained Gregor Puppinck.
But doing so would entail a risk if Vincent is made to die and the CRPD then rules that the “end-of-life procedure” violated the International Convention.
Puppink went on to say:
The Committee is a body composed of independent experts responsible for monitoring the effective implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which France is a party. Many of its members are themselves disabled. It is the highest international body specializing in the protection of persons with disabilities. As such, it is responsible for setting international reference standards in this area.
As I wrote in Valeurs actuelles on April 26, the chances of Mr. Lambert's parents filing an appeal with this Committee are very real. Indeed, the lack of care to which Mr. Lambert is subjected, his ‘detention’ in the Reims University Hospital, as well as the decision to make him die of thirst, obviously violate several provisions of this Convention, in particular those prohibiting ill-treatment, and inhuman or degrading treatment. Moreover, Article 25 obliges States to provide ‘persons with disabilities with the health services they need specifically because of their disability,’ which prohibits them from having recourse to ‘any discriminatory refusal to provide medical care or services or food or liquids on the grounds of disability.’ This is precisely what the Conseil d'Etat has authorized in this case. The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires that when nutrition and hydration are necessary, they are guaranteed (Concluding Observations United Kingdom, 3.10.2017). It also stated that ‘the right to life is absolute and that making substitute decisions on the cessation or suspension of life-sustaining treatment is not compatible with this right.’ (Consideration of the report submitted by Spain, 19.10.2011).
Is France obliged to follow the CRPD’s ruling? Puppinck is convinced the French government should do so:
“The Committee monitors the application of the Convention and its conclusions by State Parties which, in so far as they have accepted the mechanisms for examining complaints – as is the case with France – have thereby agreed to respect their outcome and to comply with them,” he wrote.
Thanks to Vincent Lambert, an important battle has been won against euthanasia by stealth, the slow killing of "undesirable" or "useless" citizens incapable of expressing their own will by denying them ordinary care. Interestingly, the case will now be fought not on the basis of what Vincent Lambert “would have wanted” that on that of his personal right to good care as a patient in a minimally conscious or vegetative state.
The question may even arise of the compliance of French law with the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in so far as that law (the Leonetti-Claeys Act of 2016) explicitly calls food and hydration a medical “treatment” when it is, in fact, ordinary nursing care.