February 6, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Vincent Lambert, known as France’s Terri Schiavo, has received his fourth death sentence after the administrative court of Châlons-en-Champagne validated a doctor’s decision to pull his feeding tube and administer deep sedation until he dies – a “process” that would take “about five days,” according to Dr. Pierre Sanchez.
The lengthy judiciary medical procedure surrounding Lambert, 42, who has been in a minimally conscious state for the last 10 years, has not reached its term yet. His parents, Pierre and Viviane Lambert, will appeal the decision before France's highest administrative court, the Council of State. They are determined to continue their fight against the “slow euthanasia” the medical and administrative authorities are trying to impose on their deeply handicapped son, their counsel, Jérôme Triomphe, told LifeSiteNews.
Viviane Lambert told LifeSite she is sure her son is cognizant of her, and described the way he reacts when she asks.
The latest judiciary decision was handed down last week after an investigation by medical experts named by the tribunal, two brain surgeons and one otolaryngologist, none of whom are familiar with the needs and medical profile of vegetative and minimally conscious patients. Their report was bleak – they refused to take into account the fact that videos show Vincent Lambert being successfully given small quantities of food through the mouth – but they did conclude that feeding the handicapped man directly to the stomach does not constitute “unreasonable obstinacy” in keeping him alive.
Lambert is not in pain, the experts concluded. There is no trace of habitual and untreatable suffering, and there is no comorbidity requiring any kind of treatment.
“Unreasonable obstinacy,” under the new end-of-life law “Leonetti-Claeys” that came into force in 2016, is a situation where a doctor, having gone through a “collegial procedure” to monitor a patient’s situation and to consult his colleagues as well as close relatives of the person incapable of expressing his own will, is personally obliged to end all treatments that do not simply aim at obtaining that patient's comfort, and to install deep and continuous sedation until death ensues. “Artificial” food and hydration are explicitly defined as a medical treatment under this law, even when, as in Lambert’s case, ordinary food is directly administered through a gastrostomy.
The issue would be morally different if feeding the patient did not fulfill the purpose of sustaining life or caused unbearable suffering.
Despite the experts’ consideration excluding “unreasonable obstinacy” — and also despite the fact that a patient is in an “irreversible state of unconsciousness” cannot of itself justify invoking “unreasonable obstinacy” — the tribunal of Châlons-en-Champagne decided that the doctor can make an end-of-life decision for a person is not capable of making his own will known, taking into account “medical and nonmedical elements.” The doctor should also seek what the patient would have wanted, following the “guiding principle” of “the greatest possible benevolence.”
“Benevolence,” in this case, is clearly equated with the decision to make a patient die – and not to “let” him die, as the pro-euthanasia lobby would have it – by actively removing food and hydration in order to make him die of thirst.
The judges decided that Dr. Sanchez handled correctly in taking into account Lambert’s wife Rachel’s allegations according to which he had, as a professional nurse before his accident, said several times that he did not want to be kept alive artificially were he to find himself to be heavily dependent, even though these allegations fluctuated throughout the procedure.
Some of Lambert’s numerous brothers and sisters also stated over the years that such declarations would be in keeping with his personality.
The judges rejected the argument of Lambert’s personal Catholic faith, even though he was married in church, asked for a special blessing for his unborn daughter, and had her baptized when she was one month old.
They also brushed away the fact that the first time Lambert’s feeding tube was pulled in 2013 without his parents being informed, based on the allegation that he no longer wished to live, he survived for 31 days on 20 centiliters of water a day.
Viviane Lambert’s witness, borne out by several videos — that her son occasionally vocalizes and is capable of swallowing, moving a leg or an eyelid when asked to, and following her with his eyes — was rejected on the ground that they are mere “reflexes.”
The judges also repeated that Lambert’s state had not progressed for several years.
Determining whether Lambert is in a permanent vegetative state or minimally conscience is of no importance, they added, and all of this is sufficient to justify Dr. Sanchez’ decision to stop feeding him and applying profound sedation until he dies.
Over the years, the Lambert case has become an emblematic affair. The ideologically-dictated will to make him a symbol of the right of patients to die according to their previously expressed end-of-life decisions – even when these decisions are particularly difficult to establish as in his case – has led to particularly cruel situations for him and for the part of his family that is fighting for his life.
The first time his feeding tube was pulled, it took a last-minute administrative court decision to stop the process. At the time, the doctor who made the decision, geriatrist Eric Kariger – he has since moved to another hospital – furiously proclaimed that he would start again, this time in full respect of the law as it then stood.
Lambert was at the time in the geriatric and palliative care section of the Reims university hospital – and he is still there. Requests by his family to have him moved to a specialized unit capable of treating minimally conscious patients have been consistently refused.
Kariger reopened the end-of-life procedure in 2013. Immediately, specialists intervened at the request of Pierre and Viviane Lambert and two of their children, offering to take Vincent in their specialized units and complaining that the decision to make him die had been made “long ago,” all elements in favor of his life having been neglected.
Once again, the administrative tribunal of Châlons-en-Champagne decided to annul Kariger’s decision in January 2014, judging that treatments given to Vincent were not out of proportion and that his desire not to live had been incorrectly alleged.
At this point, Lambert’s hospital room was put under video surveillance and he was locked in. Visitors were required to leave their identity card at the nurse’s office. Over the years, these measures would become even more stringent, with a limited list of visitors established by Lambert’s wife Rachel – who since 2013 has moved to Belgium, several hundred miles away.
Visiting hours have been restricted to times when Vincent is less often awake, avowedly to prevent renewed attempts to feed him through the mouth.
Recently, Pierre Lambert, 88, a retired medical doctor who visits his son often, was prevented from entering Vincent’s room because he had forgotten his ID card.
After appeals and a passage before the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in favor of Lambert’s death, saying that questions regarding “unreasonable obstinacy” are of the competence of the member states. However, five judges published strongly-worded dissenting opinions against what they called “a retrograde step in the degree of protection which the Convention and the Court have hitherto afforded to vulnerable people,” because Lambert’s own will could not be certainly known.
But Dr. Kariger at that point left the Reims university hospital. End-of-life decisions imply personal responsibility of the doctor taking them, so the whole procedure was started over. His replacement, Dr. Daniela Simon, decided to reopen a “collegial procedure” in July 2015. Its conclusions were forgone: she had previously assisted Rachel Lambert, who is in favor of her husband’s death, at the European Court of Human Rights.
In the face of the Lambert counsel’s numerous legal actions against the decision, she finally decided to “suspend” the procedure on July 23, 2015.
In December of that year, Vincent’s half-nephew, who has openly spoken at venues of pro-euthanasia groups, asked for a reopening of the procedure: the Council of State was to accede to his request in July 2017, stating that Lambert’s current doctor should reopen the procedure suspended by Dr. Simon, who had left her post in Reims several months previously.
In the meantime, Rachel Lambert had been named Vincent’s legal guardian, against the will of his parents and the recommendation of the public prosecutor. In her role of guardian, she is supposed to protect Lambert’s physical integrity. She has also consistently refused Vincent to be moved out of the Reims hospital where he receives no specific care or physiotherapy for his condition.
Simon’s replacement, Dr. Sanchez, who is not directly in charge of Lambert, reopened the “collegial procedure.” By then, the new end-of-life law of 2016 had facilitated end-of-life decisions, making them compulsory when “unreasonable obstinacy” is identified.
At one of the meetings where a specialist of minimally conscious persons was present, as well as 22 medical colleagues of Dr. Sanchez, only one participant — a psychologist — was in favor of pulling Vincent’s feeding tube.
Even the doctor at the beginning of the ordeal, Dr. Ana Oportus, who at the present time is Lambert’s attending physician, declared that she is now in favor of continuing treatment.
A number of eminent and often pioneering specialists intervened both in the procedure and in the media to underscore the fact that Lambert is in a minimally conscious state, that videos confirm he is capable of receiving food through the mouth, and that the treatment he is receiving at present in a palliative care unit is inadequate.
These statements were brushed aside by the latest judiciary act in the new case opened against Dr. Sanchez’ decision: the judges simply remarked that a medical secretary and a nurse’s aide were among the signatories.
Beyond the many irregularities and the courts’ remarkable obstinacy in favor of Lambert’s “end-of-life,” there are human beings, loved ones who have been fighting for more than five years for the life of a man who is not tired of living – as specialists have remarked. When people in his condition give up on life, they usually do not survive for long.
Viviane Lambert told LifeSite that she feels “empty and tired out,” even though she had not been very hopeful that the Châlons-en-Champagne court would rule in favor of her son’s life. “But he is resisting, so we shall also resist,” she said.
Did she tell Vincent of the court’s decision, LifeSite asked her. “Yes, I said I had bad news. Vincent has his moments; there are times when he does not react. But that day, the 31st of January, was extraordinary. It was truly a consolation for me. I told him to turn his head towards me – it is more and more difficult for him, because he receives no physical therapy – and he did. Vincent is not a vegetable!” said Viviane Lambert.
She also told LifeSite that she is “sure” that her son is conscious of her presence. “He reacts, he is present, an exchange does take place, I know he feels I, his mother, am there, it’s all in the eyes. And it’s what helps me carry on.”