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Vincent Lambert
Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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It’s a ‘death sentence’ to deprive food, water from brain-damaged patient in France: lawyer

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

April 30, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – “Euthanasia,” pure and simple. That’s what Jérôme Triomphe, legal counselor of the parents of “France’s Terri Schiavo,” Pierre and Viviane Lambert, is calling a medical decision to make their son, Vincent, die of thirst and hunger.
 
France’s top administrative court, the Conseil d'Etat, ruled last week that the decision to stop all care for Vincent Lambert, a quadriplegic and brain-damaged man of 42, by pulling his feeding tube and giving him profound and irreversible sedation up to death was legal.
 
Pierre Sanchez, the lead doctor of the palliative care department of the Reims University Hospital, made the decision to put an end to Lambert’s life by depriving him of hydration and food and putting him in a deep coma through sedation that will be maintained until death, according to the terms of France’s end of life law. 

Triomphe commented on the case for LifeSiteNews, underscoring the fact that since it came into effect in 2016, the “Leonetti-Claeys law,” as it is called in France, gives doctors the power to decide over the lives of those patients who are unable to express their own will. This interview is also appearing in French in the weekly “Minute.”

LifeSiteNews: Vincent Lambert has had very bad news – if we can put it like that: On April 23rd, the Conseil d’État rejected the appeal of Pierre and Viviane Lambert and two of his siblings to save his life. Were you expecting this decision?

Jérôme Triomphe: You are correct in saying that Vincent Lambert has received very bad news. On January 31, 2019, when his mother, Viviane, went to see him, she shot a video that I obviously had access to. It shows Vincent turning his head and eyes several times towards his mother, and vocalizing in muffled tones for about a minute. This was in reaction to the announcement of the decision that the Châlons-en-Champagne court had just issued in first instance, confirming his death sentence. Now they’re telling us that Vincent is a vegetable connected to machines. ... That is absolutely false.

Unfortunately, we were already expecting this decision of January 31, 2019, since everything had been done in a biased way. First, we had to challenge the president of the administrative tribunal who came to the expertise in person, which is already very rare in itself, not to attend the expertise as the legal code allows, but to preside over it and to prevent us, in practice, together with our doctors, from discussing medical issues with the experts and to challenge the method of evaluation they were implementing. The president had had our motion for recusal declared inadmissible, in violation of the Code, by one of his vice presidents, and when the results of the expertise came back, he rushed to fix a hearing for the case without even taking legal intervals into account. He was obviously in a great hurry have the case judged.

We therefore brought a motion before the Administrative Court of Appeal to refer the case to another court on the basis of “reasonable suspicion.” The case was argued before the Administrative Court, which dismissed our case. We then lodged an appeal in cassation with the Conseil d’Etat, but without even waiting for the outcome of the latter, on the very day of the decision of the Administrative Court of Appeal and one hour after it fell, the court of Châlons-en-Champagne rushed to fix the hearing the case which was heard three days later.

All of this shows that the court was in an extreme hurry to rule, or get rid of Vincent Lambert’s case. Unfortunately, the court's decision was not a surprise. We deplored that several times, underscoring that the decision had already been announced, that it was expected and so to speak had already written. Well, that’s what happened. These are the reasons that have led us to refer the matter to the European Court of Human Rights for deliberate violation of the right to a fair trial and the right to an effective remedy.

After the decision of 31 January last, we appealed to the Conseil d'Etat, which held its hearing on 29 March, and took longer than the administrative tribunal, but in order to reach the same decision.

This has no other meaning than to make a judgment on Vincent Lambert's life, since while explaining that the allegedly “vegetative state” cannot justify the stopping of nourishing and hydration, the Conseil d’Etat says immediately afteward that such stopping is justified in Lambert’s case by “non-medical” arguments.

Regarding these “non-medical arguments,” readers of “LifeSite” should know that you can put absolutely anything you want into them. It is no longer simply medical elements that justify stopping therapy – and food and hydration are obviously not therapy,” expect for Leonetti and the administrative judges – but non-medical elements, including in particular the alleged will of the patient who can be made to say what he wants, all the more easily because he cannot express his will.

LSN: So what did the judges do?

JT: In this case, the words of Vincent’s wife, Rachel, who left Reims for Belgium six years ago, were used. Rachel had terminated her lease in Reims while Vincent was still alive but had been deprived of food for several days, during the first end-of-life procedure in April 2013. She left for Belgium in July 2013. However, it is she who was appointed as her husband's guardian despite our opposition and the opposition of the Public Prosecution and the Attorney General. In practice, she has never exercised guardianship: when the judge questioned her, it was her lawyer who answered.

LSN: And in this last procedure, which was obtained by Vincent's half-nephew, was Rachel present?

JT: That’s the point, she was not. Neither Rachel, as legal guardian, nor the UDAF (“Union départementale des associations familiales”) of the Marne department, as supervisory guardian, deigned to appear before the Conseil d'Etat. This appeared not to pose any difficulty to Council of State even though Rachel's absence was spectacular and was noticed by everyone. It disturbed many people, by the way.
The Conseil d’État therefore relied on rather divergent statements by Rachel Lambert, who was not there, to pronounce what is in reality a death sentence.

One thing must be understood: The patient’s will is only a pretext here. From the beginning, Vincent has been ascribed a will that was reported by his wife, although she has contradicted herself many times. But what the judge and the legislator were really looking for is not a certain will, despite the words used by the law: it is a simple pretext because in no way do they define the authenticity of the testimony, its veracity, or its degree of credibility. Nor is it taken into account that a person who produces this kind of testimony of an alleged will to die five years after the accident may have a (humanly understandable) desire to let go. All this is ignored. On the contrary, they retain a testimony full of inconsistencies and contradictions, because in reality it is very practical and allows to confirm the decision that was taken.

LSN: The Leonetti-Claeys Act under which this decision was made ultimately allows the doctor to make such a decision alone in the face of a patient who is unable to express his or her own will.

JT: The doctor decides alone, and this is one of the major grievances against the law: Jean Leonetti has created the conditions for family tragedies. Whereas until now this kind of decision was taken by consensus, within the family, Leonetti has imposed the masquerade of a so-called collegial procedure, where in reality the omnipotent and omniscient decision-maker is a doctor who can alone rule out any contrary opinions he may have obtained. It is an absolutely dramatic situation.

LSN: As for Vincent Lambert, whether he is in a vegetative state or not – and many elements indicate that he is not – we can therefore say that he is under a decision to be euthanized.

JT: Very clearly.

LSN: It is a decision of euthanasia taken by a doctor: We are in a situation in France where it is no longer even the will of the patient that counts, but that of a doctor, is that right?

JT: Legally, it must be understood that the physician must take into account testimony of the will expressed by the patient, but is not obliged to follow it. Legally, the doctor does what he wants.

LSN: From this point of view, is France therefore in a worse situation than in the Netherlands, where euthanasia exists but where the patient's wishes are sought in every detail?

JT: Absolutely. For people who are not in a position to give consent, it is the doctor who will decide after trying to find out what they would have wanted. If he considers that he is in a situation of unreasonable obstinacy, he will take into account those wishes, but he is not bound by them.

LSN: Throughout this procedure, you have highlighted the mistreatment to which Vincent Lambert was subjected: locked in a room, he was never taken out of bed, he received no physiotherapy since 2012, and visits were severely limited. There have been a whole series of facts that do not correspond to the protocol of care that must be offered to this type of brain damaged patient. Is this what you are fight for now before the UN International Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?

JT: This is our main line of defense before the International UN Committee. It should be stressed that the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ratified by France also prohibits in its article 25 discrimination against persons with disabilities by refusing them food and hydration on the grounds of their disability. That’s exactly what is to be done to Vincent. We therefore attach great importance to this action.

LSN: The European Court of Human Rights has already ruled in an extremely inhuman way in the Vincent Lambert case. You are also appealing to the ECHR, but I suppose you do not expect much from it. Before the UN Committee, do you expect to be heard attentively and to obtain a favorable decision?

JT: Yes, we hope so. Before the ECHR, we are challenging the violation of the right to a fair trial, and the scandalous way in which the proceedings were conducted at the Châlons-en-Champagne Administrative Court. Given the scandalous way in which the procedure has been conducted, the ECHR could decide to look into the case. But obviously, the most important thing for Vincent today is the CIDPH.

LSN: We can say, Jérôme Triomphe, that you have been personally bearing the weight of this case since its very beginning, and that it is much more than just another legal case you have to plead. You have become personally involved in a very deep way, haven’t you?

JT: Obviously. First of all, I certainly didn't know Vincent well, but I met him when we were both around 10 years old. He is one or two years younger than I am, and really, he has become a brother to me, a vulnerable brother, a helpless brother, one of those human beings we want to defend, especially when they are victims of abuse. It’s like defending a little brother who needs an older brother. That is how I experienced this affair, wanting to defend him but also his admirable parents who showed an incredible strength despite all the indignities they had been subjected to.

LSN: How are Pierre and Viviane Lambert? Are they holding on?

JT: I admire their strength and courage despite the inevitable moments of suffering and pain that they experience intimately, but keep to themselves. I am amazed by their strength of character. Others would have given up long before now.

LSN: And through the defense of their son's life, they are actually defending many other vulnerable people ...

JT: Of course. We all know that. They know it. They are fighting, first of all, for Vincent because he’s their son. If the French only realized the love they have for Vincent, their devotion, and the sacrifices they are making at 90 and 73 years of age when they could have been enjoying a peaceful retirement surrounded by their grandchildren! Every day they are with Vincent. But they know that if Vincent dies, 1,700 patients in his situation will also be at risk of death. And then who? All those whose lives are considered useless: the dementia patients and the Alzheimers. And then, who’ll be next?

But Vincent is not dead. He fought in 2013 for 31 days without food. He will continue to fight with us who are fighting for him. All the specialists we consulted say that the fact that he is still alive despite these 31 days without food, despite these four collegial procedures and dozens of judicial procedures, does not figure with his alleged will to die. Such medical and judicial determination to kill him by refusing his transfer to a specialized unit will remain like a shameful stigma in our history.

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