Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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Doctor orders food and hydration pulled from ‘France’s Terri Schiavo’

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent
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Reims, FRANCE, Jan. 14, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) - On Saturday, the head of the geriatric division of the University Hospital of Reims, Dr. Eric Kariger, ordered that food and fluid tubes be pulled from Vincent Lambert, who is known by pro-life advocates who are supporting his parents in their fight to save his life as "France's Terri Schiavo."

In theory the withdrawal is scheduled for today - Tuesday, 14th January. But Kariger specified that he would wait if an emergency procedure were to be brought before the administrative tribunal against his decision. 

A court hearing is scheduled on Wednesday morning at the request of the young man’s parents to obtain his transfer to a hospital unit specializing in cases like his.

Lambert, 37, had a motor accident five years ago that left him tetraplegic and in what is often medically referred to as a "vegetative" state. His condition improved somewhat and he is now in a minimally conscious state, contradicting the so-called "vegetative" diagnosis which critics say is not a diagnosis that can ever be appropriately applied to a human being, whether clinically diagnosed as dead or alive and on life support. 

It is reported that Vincent can feel pain and can interact, albeit inconsistently, with his environment. He is able to follow with his eyes, he smiles and cries and responds to certain situations. He is fed by a PEG tube because he has trouble swallowing, but can taste small quantities of food. He has even been taken home on a few occasions to celebrate family events. 

Last year, judging that Vincent showed discomfort when receiving certain treatments, Dr. Kariger decided that he “refuses life” and, having obtained the consent of his patient’s wife, removed the young man’s feeding tube on April 10th, initiating what he called an “end of life protocol,” leaving him with only 500 ml of fluid per day. His parents only discovered this on April 25th. 

On May 11th, they obtained an emergency court order to resume feeding Vincent, a full 31 days after his starvation process had begun. The order was granted on the grounds that their son’s right to have his life defended had not been guaranteed and that Kariger had not complied with his legal obligation to consult with Vincent’s family before making his decision. 

The family’s counsel, Jérôme Triomphe said that after the decision he witnessed the doctor vow that he would recommence the whole procedure, this time in accordance with the 2005 Leonetti Law on patient’s rights at the end of life. This meant he would consult Vincent’s family, part of which is opposed to the “end of life” decision, and a number of specialists.

These consultations took place since September, including one meeting where neurologist and bioethics specialist Professor Xavier Ducrocq, who was summoned by Viviane and Pierre Lambert in order to defend their son’s life, found himself alone facing 20 experts and colleagues of Kariger who are in favor of finalizing Vincent’s death. Professor Ducrocq, on the other hand, is of the opinion that withdrawing food and fluids from a handicapped but otherwise healthy man constitutes euthanasia.

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This is also the opinion of medical specialists in charge of France’s 1,500 “minimally conscious” patients. One of these doctors, Dr. Jeanblanc, has offered to take up Vincent in his specialized unit, after having examined him and judged that he is not in his place in a geriatrics and palliative care unit. However, Dr. Jeanblanc was refused access to the aforementioned meeting and Kariger, as well as Vincent’s wife Rachel, rejected his family’s demands that he should be moved to a hospital where he will be taken care of. 

Since last May, Kariger has given a large number of media interviews detailing Vincent’s medical condition, making clear that he intends to proceed with the “end of life protocol” on the grounds that “Vincent would have wanted this” and that there is no hope of seeing an improvement in the quality of his relationship with his wife and family.

Last Saturday, Kariger called a meeting with Vincent’s wife as well as his parents and siblings. He made clear that having consulted them in accordance with the Leonetti Law he was now formally taking the decision to “let Vincent die,” adding that he believes the traditionalist religious beliefs of his father and mother and two siblings were preventing them from understanding that it was the best for the young man. 

Religious forces in France have opposed parts of the Leonetti Law. In 2007, Archbishop André Vingt-Trois, now cardinal of Paris, and Grand Rabbi David Messas, cosigned a document arguing that the Leonetti Law could be used for euthanasia as withholding food from a patient is never allowed when the objective of such a decision is obtaining his or her death. 

Kariger is now pushing for immediate removal of food as well as fluids. Preparatory documents to the Leonetti Law explicitly exclude removal of fluids on the grounds of the cruelty of letting someone die of thirst. Such a procedure is expected to lead to death in a matter of days.

Barrister Jérôme Triomphe, who already saved Vincent’s life once before in May, introduced his request for an emergency procedure this Monday. The hearing will take place on Wednesday. Such hearings are usually conducted by one judge. In this case, in an extremely rare move, no less than nine judges are scheduled to hear the case.

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