Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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France’s ‘Terri Schiavo’ wins reprieve as court rules it illegal to remove his food and water

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

REIMS, France, January 17, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) - France’s “Terri Schiavo” has been saved – once again. An administrative court near Reims ruled on Thursday that it would be illegal to withdraw food and water from Vincent Lambert, a deeply handicapped young man whose doctor claims sustaining his life is “unreasonable obstinacy.”

The doctor, Dr. Eric Kariger, head of the geriatric and palliative care unit of the Reims university hospital, said hospital staff had a “suspicion” that Lambert was showing opposition to treatment and that he was in fact “refusing life.”

Lambert had a road accident five years ago that left him tetraplegic. Over the years he evolved from what doctors called a “vegetative state” to a “minimally conscious state” in which doctors are sure he has sensory perceptions and can feel pain or wellbeing, although he is not able to communicate meaningfully. He can move his eyes and react to the presence of his loved ones. He is in no way dead or dying, being otherwise in good health.

So why decide to put him on an “end of life protocol”?

Because that is what he “would have wanted,” according to Dr Kariger. The doctor quotes several statements Lambert made about life when he was still an active psychiatric nurse, according to his wife and several of his siblings who are in favor of the doctor’s decision.

At the hearing in court on Wednesday, barristers representing the Reims hospital, Dr Kariger, as well as Lambert’s wife Rachel and his nephew François – who, incidentally, is active in France’s pro-euthanasia “Death with Dignity” association, insisted that he is being kept alive “artificially” because he is receiving food “artificially” through a feeding tube.

But at the start of the hearing the public rapporteur, who represents the State in proceedings involving public services and State agents, made an exceptionally long statement asking the Court to accede to the request of Lambert’s parents, Pierre and Viviane, to overturn Kariger’s death decision.

Traditionally, 80 percent of rulings by the French administrative courts comply with the public rapporteur’s opinion.

In this case the rapporteur was a young, elegant and modern young woman, putting a face on the case that is miles away from Kariger’s repeated public statements in the media claiming Mr. and Mrs. Lambert’s strong opposition to the “end of life” of their son had been dictated by their religious “traditionalism” and “ideology”.

She argued that Vincent Lambert is in a “totally vulnerable” state and needs every bit as much and even more protection than the dying because he cannot express his own will. The imminence of the threat to his life – Kariger’s decision would have been implemented on Monday evening in the absence of a court hearing – well justifies an emergency procedure, she said, adding that the case rested on the “safeguard of a fundamental liberty,” the “respect of his right to life.”

Given the media attention and bias in this case – for months, the mainstream press has expressed itself in favor of Lambert’s death – such a statement was surprising at the least.

She added that putting an end to Vincent Lambert’s life because he is in a minimally conscious state “would be equivalent to judge on his quality of life, on the meaning of his life – and no judge should do that.” So long as feeding Vincent Lambert does not cause “more harm than good,” there is no reason to withdraw his feeding tubes, she said, underscoring that no one is in a position to affirm that he is responding to treatment in a manner that would suggest he does not want to live.

Both barristers pleading for Vincent’s life then underlined that the letter of France’s “end of life” law cannot apply to a young man who is not dying, not even ill. Jérôme Triomphe made clear that the artificial administration of food and fluids is not a medical treatment. The “end of life” law’s main author, Jean Leonetti, has repeatedly stated in the media these last months that artificial feeding can and should be stopped when a person wants or would have wanted to stop receiving medical treatment, arguing that his law should “benefit” deeply handicapped people who have no hope of seeing their condition improve. All the while he assures the public that he opposes euthanasia.

But the wording of the law is all but clear on this point.

The Lamberts other legal representative, Jean Paillot, a specialist in medical ethics, underlined that two questions had been asked that should never have been asked: “Is the patient’s life meaningful?” and “Would he have wanted to live like this?”

“Judging a life’s meaningfulness is in contradiction with human dignity. I come from Alsace, where under the abominable Nazi regime certain people were considered as Untermenschen. Should some people not live because they cannot have interpersonal relations? And Vincent Lambert does have a form of relationship with others,” he said. “And as to what he wants now, no-one is in a position to know.”

Two medical experts were allowed to tell the judges that in their opinion, Vincent Lambert is not ill, only handicapped, and that he should be moved to another medical facility which is prepared to take care of him in a proper way.

On leaving the courtroom on Wednesday afternoon, Lambert’s parents were more hopeful than through these last nine months, from the time when a first attempt to induce their son’s death failed. After 31 days without food, an emergency court injunction ordered Kariger to reinstall nourishment because he had not consulted with a large part of Vincent’s family before pulling the tubes.

He immediately promised to recommence a “collegiate procedure” in which he opposed his own and five other doctors’ opinion to the only expert named by the Lamberts he was prepared to hear.

After the court ruling on Thursday, one of Kariger’s experts, Véronique Fournier, of the ethics committee of a major Paris hospital, told leftwing daily Libération that no court can judge a medical decision. “The poor man no longer exists as a person, he has been erased,” she said.

The nine judges who heard the case – an exceptional number, as emergency hearings are usually left to one judge – took the side of life. They said statements by Vincent Lambert previous to his accident should not be taken into account, because at that time he was not “confronted with the immediate consequences of the will he was expressing.”

Nor is Lambert being artificially kept alive, they said, as he is in a state of consciousness. They also underlined that proof had not been brought that his food and fluid tubes are causing him pain or suffering. Instead, they are sustaining his life and a certain interpersonal relationship.

Kariger and Vincent’s wife will probably appeal the decision.

The mainstream media are now saying the Leonetti law needs to be changed so that it can clearly apply to patients like Vincent Lambert. Having seen the young man, this author can only say that he is very evidently alive, and that starving and dehydrating him to death would be a homicidal act.

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