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Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent


France’s Terri Schiavo saved from death by starvation in dramatic 11th hour development

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

July 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - A fresh “coup de théâtre” has taken place in the dramatic story of Vincent Lambert – France’s Terri Schiavo – whose wife and doctors want to see dead by dehydration and starvation. Meanwhile his parents and several of his siblings have been fighting for his life for more than two years.

Last Thursday, Daniela Simon, the young man’s attending physician, was expected to formally signify her decision to place him in an “end-of-life procedure” which would have involved removal of his feeding tube (his only form of life support), together with deep sedation until he died. Instead, she read a short statement indicating that the public prosecutor was to put him under protection, saying that the situation was not “serene” enough to take an “end of life” decision.

The week before, at a family council summoned by Dr. Simon of the Reims University Hospital, she had indicated to some family members that she would put an end to the “artificial administration of food and fluids” to the severely handicapped and brain-damaged Vincent Lambert. Calling his family to a formal meeting is part of the legal procedure. They give their opinion, but the doctor has the last decision.

But on Thursday, a completely unexpected thing happened. Viviane Lambert, Vincent’s mother, told LifeSiteNews that Daniela Simon was over 20 minutes late for her appointment. The deeply divided family waited without a word being exchanged: Rachel Lambert, Vincent’s wife, as well as several siblings and his nephew were waiting for the final decision which was to condemn him to die of thirst and starvation after nine years in a minimally conscious state.

But when Simon came in she had obviously been crying. In a constrained voice, she read the official decision that meant Lambert’s life was saved. She indicated that there had been “threats” to “kidnap” him and that for his and for the hospital personnel’s “safety,” it had been decided not to “let him die” at this point. When asked by Vincent’s father to explain what she meant by “threats” and “kidnapping,” she declined to answer.

According to Viviane and Pierre Lambert’s lawyers, Jérôme Triomphe and Jean Paillot, the decision to name a public guardian for Vincent can only mean one thing: the Reims hospital has found an elegant manner in which to wash its hands of the situation. Most probably, he will not single-handedly approve of an “end of life procedure”, all the more because several criminal complaints have been lodged against Simon and the hospital authorities for “attempted murder” and “ill-treatment” and he would also expose himself to prosecution.

The public guardian is expected to ask for Vincent’s transfer to another hospital, hopefully to a specialized unit for brain-damaged patients. Six such units – including one in Poland – have already volunteered to take care of the young man. Up till now, Rachel Lambert and the Reims hospital have refused to let Vincent return under his parents’ care, while they have been asking for him to be transferred since the first administrative decision in their favor in May 2013.

In the absence of prior designation, French law is silent about the point of who is a person’s legal representative when he or she can no longer take personal decisions. In Vincent’s case, the hospital chose Rachel and both France’s highest administrative court and the European Court of Human Rights acted along those lines, the last even refusing to hear Viviane and Pierre Lambert insofar as they requested to act in their son’s name.

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Importantly, the naming of a guardian contradicts Rachel’s status as her husband’s representative. While in such cases, under French law it is the doctor who takes the final decision to engage in an “end of life procedure”, the naming of a guardian also suggests that Dr. Simon no longer has the support of her superiors.

“If my son is now under protection, it means he is alive,” Viviane Lambert told LifeSiteNews. This may seem obvious, but having been decreed to be in a “vegetative state” the point is an important one.

So what happened to bring about this spectacular about-face? Most of France’s mainstream media have sided with Rachel and the doctors who wanted Vincent dead because “he would not have wanted to live that way.” The Lamberts were portrayed as a “fundamentalist” Catholic family divided against its more modern, progressive members who wanted Vincent’s alleged last will to be respected. The mainstream press refused to underline that during these last two years, wife Rachel moved to Belgium and is seldom by her husband’s side, while Viviane and Pierre are there every day.

Against all odds, Viviane Lambert has become a media figure. She wrote a book about her feelings as a mother seeing doctors and family members doing all they could to obtain her son’s death, underscoring his reactions to her visits and pointing out how he is being held under lock and key in a stuffy hospital room with a ceiling for his only horizon. She was interviewed by radios and televisions in the mainstream media and managed to get some sympathy.

Then a video was posted to Internet together with a petition for Vincent’s life; it attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers, showing that Vincent, while deeply handicapped, is alive and not at all in an end of life situation. Another video, which has been kept private, shows the progress made by Vincent who has started moving his right leg voluntarily since last Christmas – something he was not capable of before then. Even more spectacularly, he has been accepting small amounts of food and water given to him through the mouth and swallowing them perfectly well since June.

The images of Vincent eating small quantities of compote and cream, which he swallows with obvious enjoyment, were shown to several experts in the case. Lambert had not tasted any food for seven years, during the time in which absolutely no effort had been made by medical staff to rehabilitate his swallowing reflex. Daniela Simon refused to watch the video, but it may have influenced her superiors.

The multiple criminal procedures opened by Vincent’s family must also have played a role. They have put pressure on those who are refusing to release Vincent from a hospital where he has received no physiotherapy or special care for close on three years and where he now is only allowed to receive visits from his close family. His room is under permanent guard, and all visitors, including the hospital chaplain, are required to hand over their ID cards for the duration of their stay.

Another important event took place a few weeks ago when Viviane Lambert, who had asked to be received by the French president François Hollande, was able to put her case at the French presidential palace, the Elysée, before Hollande’s special advisor for medical affairs, Professor Lyon-Caen. While he refused to watch the video of Vincent she brought with her in order to remain “neutral,” she told LifeSiteNews, he listened to her attentively and also spoke with her counsel, a professor of neurology and medical ethics, Pr. Xavier Ducrocq. Ducrocq has seen Vincent on several occasions and disagrees – along with many other specialists – with the official finding that he is in a “vegetative state.”

Lastly, Dr. Simon was party to the original decision to pull Vincent’s feeding tube in April 2013 without his parents being informed: it was only by luck that Viviane was to learn that her son had received no food and only minimal hydration for 20 days, in a period when she was living in the South of France, 450 miles away. It was ten days later, when Vincent was very near death, that the Lamberts obtained his first judicial reprieve.

“What confidence could we have in Dr. Simon who has already once tried to organize Vincent’s death without even telling us?” said Viviane Lambert.

This, and the fact that Dr. Simon assisted at the hearing at the European Court of Human Rights in the Lambert case, officially as “counsel” to Rachel Lambert, caused Viviane and Pierre Lambert’s lawyers to question her impartiality in the case.

What is clear is that Simon was obliged to modify her decision at the last minute, probably under constraint from her superiors. She refused to comment on the decision.

The day after the reunion, where she learnt that her son’s life had been saved, Viviane Lambert told LifeSiteNews: “We are savoring our joy. We only really took in what had happened in the evening, when we were back home. It was something we hadn’t dared hope for.

“We could not accept Rachel as Vincent’s guardian, and she is obviously unwilling for us to play that role, so a guardian who is outside the family is a solution we can accept, even though she is opposed to it. It is also a way for the hospital to keep up appearances so that Vincent can be transferred through an outside decision.”

Mrs. Lambert is also of the opinion that Hollande’s counselor Lyon-Caen must have intervened from several things he said to her when she called him days before the final decision was to be made.

All this does not mean that the battle against “slow euthanasia” has been won. Vincent’s life has been saved for the moment at least, and there is true hope that he will now receive the care he needs.

But some liberal newspapers, such as the anarchist but well-funded daily “Libération”, are comparing those who fought to save Vincent with Islamic State fighters, and his wife Rachel, crying profusely, told the press that the “terrorists” had won. Also, the “end of life” law in France is now recognized to be applicable to patients who are not in a terminal state both by the French Council of State and the European Court of Human Rights. That has been securely obtained through the “Vincent Lambert case” and perhaps, in a way, his actual death is no longer of any importance. 

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