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Vincent Lambert
Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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Hospital director moves to kill disabled Vincent Lambert, France’s Terri Schiavo

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

May 13, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — There has been yet another thunderclap in the Vincent Lambert case. On Friday, his mother, Viviane, who has been fighting for his life for six years now, received a short letter from Dr. Vincent Sanchez of the University Hospital of Reims in the north of France telling her he intends to start an end-of-life protocol during the week beginning on May 20. France is deliberately ignoring an order from the U.N. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to suspend the execution of France’s Terri Schiavo. Sanchez apparently has the full support of the French government and administration. Health minister Agnès Buzyn said shortly after the interim measures were announced by the CRPD that France did not consider itself bound by the U.N. agency’s decision because Lambert is not “handicapped,” according to her, but in a “vegetative state.”

Sanchez and the public health administration intend to execute the recent order of the highest administrative court, the Council of State, ordering Lambert’s feeding tube to be pulled, together with deep sedation until death.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which in 2015 judged against those members of Lambert’s family who do not want him to be slowly killed, refused on April 20 to examine the case again despite the efforts of lawyers Jérôme Triomphe and Jean Paillot to underscore new legal elements justifying a human rights complaint.

The CRPD was seized as an act of last resort.

Since Sanchez decided to ignore its decision, the hospital in Reims, where Vincent Lambert is kept under lock and key in the palliative care section where he has been for over six years, is under public force protection, with signs saying the highest level of anti-terrorist measures, “Vigipirate,” are in force. “Reinforced security, terrorist attack risk,” reads one sign.

The Lamberts’ legal counsel team has announced that it will take judiciary steps to prevent Sanchez from executing his plan.

Gregor Puppinck, director of the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), a sister organization of the American Center for Law and Justice, has accompanied many pro-life proceedings through international human rights courts. He was kind enough to give LifeSite his opinion on France’s move to disregard a formal decision by the CRPD, calling it a “political” decision that will most likely lead to France’s condemnation by the U.N. committee. His full interview is below.

Some LifeSite readers have questioned the Lamberts’ move to appeal to a U.N. body, rightly underscoring that the United Nations has a long record of promoting and imposing the culture of death on nations who still resist legalizing abortion, “LGBT rights,” de facto population control, and so on.

But when it comes to saving a man’s life, you use the possibilities that exist. When there are judges or bodies capable of preventing an outright murder, they can be called upon to do so; this is not morally wrong. When a social system is bad but imposes itself, when it is in control, what else can be done than to use it as much as possible for the good?

Take Vladimir Boukovski, a Russian dissident confronted with Soviet power that embodied “intrinsically perverse communism”: with his dissident friends, he used all the powers of existing law and regulations before the courts in order to obtain scraps of freedom, using the powers that be’s own system against itself, as it were. Who would hold that against him?


Full interview with Gregor Puppinck

LifeSite: Gregor Puppinck, you are very familiar with the workings of the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights and UN Committees. What is your reaction to the French decision to ignore the CRPD's request concerning Vincent Lambert's case?

Gregor Puppinck: I am staggered. The government is manifestly violating its international commitments with the sole aim of making a disabled person die more quickly. Its goal is symbolic and political: Vincent Lambert is the symbol of the social conflict that is going on in France about the end of life and more specifically, euthanasia. Vincent Lambert's death has become a political necessity for euthanasia advocates and they are ready to violate their own international commitments to achieve this. I think the government is afraid of the decision of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; it does not trust its own position and therefore prefers to stop the procedure from the outset rather than follow it and honor its own commitments.

It is important to stress one thing: in addition to the factual aspects – Vincent Lambert is not in a vegetative state, at least not all the time – there is an important aspect regarding international law: to date, many questions pending in the case have not been judged in international law. They have not been judged by the European Court of Human Rights, which has refused to rule on a number of major human rights violations issues, and they have now been referred to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which specializes and is competent in the defense of the rights of persons with disabilities. Today, many violations remain to be judged, including Vincent Lambert’s lack of care and the refusal to let him be transferred to a specialized unit for brain-damaged patients.

It should also be noted that there is a significant difference between the Strasbourg and Geneva bodies on the issue of hydration and nutrition. The European Court of Human Rights has refused to take a position on the question of whether food and hydration are “care” that can be stopped. It merely invoked the absence of a consensus between European States in order to avoid judging the issue, and to allow France a margin of appreciation. The European Court simply said: there is no agreement in Europe, so we say nothing.

On the other hand, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in its article 25, states very precisely that food and hydration cannot be taken away from a patient because of his or her disability. That is the central question. I think we must insist on this article 25 because it responds very clearly to Vincent Lambert’s situation.

LifeSite: But the Minister of Health, Agnès Buzyn, said that the French government recognizes that this is true for the disabled, but that Vincent Lambert, who is brain-damaged and in a vegetative state, is not a disabled person. What do you think of that?

Gregor Puppinck: The answer is obvious. First of all, Vincent Lambert is well and truly handicapped. He is not ill, nor is he at the end of his life. He is simply handicapped: he does not receive any special treatment, he is just fed and hydrated. Vincent Lambert perfectly fits the definition of disability as given by the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It mentions, in particular, cerebral handicaps, which can of course be due to an accident, as is the case for Vincent Lambert.

Secondly, it should be noted that requests addressed to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are first screened by the secretariat. The secretariat immediately eliminates all requests that are clearly not in its scope – and there are many of them. The fact that the secretariat has registered the request proves that it falls within the scope of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and therefore on this point what Mrs Buzyn is saying is a very weak, worthless argument, already contradicted by the facts.

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not at any time in its communication suggest that the Committee would not be competent to judge the Lambert case in relation to his disability. If Vincent Lambert were not disabled, the committee would not be competent. That cannot possibly be disputed.

LifeSite: The problem, however, is that if France proceeds as it intends, and as Dr. Vincent Sanchez has announced, Vincent Lambert will indeed be killed by slow euthanasia. What would be the CRPD’s means of coercion to prevent this action, and what could its subsequent actions be if this action were to occur?

Gregor Puppinck: The CRPD will certainly be informed of the government's decision, if this has not already been done. What can it do? In the immediate future, it can respond more firmly to the French government to remind it of its obligation to respect its international commitments.  Together with the committee, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights may intervene, since the Committee is part of the High Commission for its secretariat. So for now, there a strong reminder from the Committee could be forthcoming. Later, diplomatic pressure may be exerted.

However, it is true that we have the impression that the French government has adopted a radical attitude, being determined to violate international law, so I do not know what the weight of international pressure may be in the face of this shameful determination of the government.

In any event, the French Government’s refusal, if maintained, to apply the interim measures will lead to France’s conviction on this ground. This is a certainty since there have been precedents in other cases, notably on the part of the Human Rights Committee, which is a UN twin committee to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, operating exactly according on the same principle and slightly superior to it in terms of hierarchy of legal norms.

I would like to mention a case against Belarus in 2013. Belarus had sentenced a man to death. The Human Rights Committee requested interim measures to prevent this man from being executed. Belarus did it anyway. Well, the Human Rights Committee sentenced Belarus to damages, and stated very clearly as a general principle that it was “drawing the State parties’ attention to the fact that non-respect of interim measures constitutes a violation by State parties of their obligations to cooperate in good faith under the optional protocol to the Covenant.”

This is a clear violation of international law, and it will be condemned, but the risk is that it will be condemned too late, and at a time when Mrs. Buzyn will no longer be in office anyway. This is a political case.

LifeSite: Would a favorable decision by the CRPD, whether through a condemnation of France or through sufficient pressure to prevent the implementation of the Sanchez plan, call into question the French Leonetti-Claeys law on the end of life?

Gregor Puppinck: Yes. When United Nations committees, like the European Court of Human Rights, find a decision violates a Convention, they ask – this is only asking, but in international law the State must take this into account – for compensation for the particular damage suffered by the victim, but they also ask the government to take general measures to prevent such damage from happening again. Among these general measures, the committee may strongly urge the government to amend its legislation.

As you know, this was the case against Ireland on abortion, as part of the general measures.

Such a request will be then be followed by the Committee, which can exert further pressure. This certainly belongs to the committee’s possible responsibilities.

To a certain extent, it can be said that the committee’s final decision is not directly binding – not as a court decision in domestic law would be. On the other hand, in my view, interim measures are directly binding because they are procedural in nature. And the French government has undertaken to participate in the procedure.

To say, as the government does, that the committee's decisions are not strictly binding, and that therefore, all the more, interim measures are not binding either, is wrong. Interim measures are a procedural matter.

For instance, France must respect the deadlines, particularly when asked to reply within six months. The same applies to interim measures. France has made a very clear commitment by ratifying the Convention: interim measures are part of it.

In a wider sense, this case concerns the application of several rules of international law: in particular two articles of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. One of its articles states that treaties must be applied in good faith, which is essential. A second asserts that a State cannot invoke its domestic law as a justification for a breach of an international legal rule.

However, this is precisely what the French government is doing, since it has invoked its Leonetti law, saying that it is so good that the interim measures will not be applied. These are clear violations of international law, there is no doubt about that.

• Dr Vincent Sanchez, head of the palliative care unit at the Reims University Hospital, can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected]

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