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Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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France’s ‘Terri Schiavo’ gains a reprieve

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

April 21, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – At long last, there is hope for Vincent Lambert. France’s “Terri Schiavo”, whose feeding tube was supposed to been pulled a few days ago because a doctor, Vincent Sanchez of the University Hospital of Reims, north of Paris, had decided that feeding him was equivalent to “therapeutic obstinacy”, has gained a reprieve.

In emergency proceedings brought before the administrative tribunal of Châlons-en-Champagne, Viviane and Pierre, Vincent’s parents and two siblings have obtained the one thing that can bring about the tetraplegic, brain-damaged patient’s transferral to a special unit for minimally conscious persons, where he would at last receive proper care and stimulation to help him eat through the mouth and communicate with the outer world.

Judge Olivier Nizet did not order the immediate removal of the 41-year-old man from the hospital where he has technically been kept prisoner in a room that has even been under electronic lock for these last three years, nor did he declare Dr Sanchez’ decision illegal, as Viviane and Pierre Lambert’s legal team had requested.

But the judge did follow their reasoning in remarking that the facts alleged by Sanchez in order to stop feeding Vincent in order to “let” – or rather to make – him die, together with deep and irreversible sedation, were not sufficient. He ordered further expert assessment, consisting of the examination of Lambert by a team of three specialists who will be named by the tribunal, in order to determine whether the patient has shown signs of progress in comparison with his situation four years ago, when the last expert assessment was made.

Viviane and Pierre Lambert have repeatedly argued that Vincent has been more awake since then, showing signs of being able to eat through his mouth and to respond to certain stimuli. He is also using his voice again. All this was recorded on videos that the medical teams of the palliative care unit where Vincent has been held for so many years have consistently refused to watch or take into account.

Speaking with LifeSite, Viviane Lambert said she was “sure” that these videos had made the difference: “These videos show that Vincent is not a vegetable, that he is not in a ‘vegetative state’. I think they really caused the president of the tribunal to reflect. The judges said they would look at them privately, and I'm sure they did.”

The new examinations will take place within a month in the hospital where Lambert is at present, but for the first time a court has decided not only to call upon neurologists but also on specialists in rehabilitative medicine. Not only that: for the first time, those members of his family who are fighting for his life will be allowed to be present during the examination – if so, Lambert’s wife Rachel and his half-nephew François who are favorable to his death will also be allowed to attend a separate examination. Thirdly, the judge has ordered that those examinations take place at the times of day when they will allow Vincent’s situation to be assessed in the best of conditions.

This is important because there are moments when he is more absent and more prone to sleep. The very strict visiting hours imposed on Pierre and Viviane Lambert and the few people who are allowed to see Vincent – and that only if they leave their identity cards with the hospital staff – were modified some time ago so that they can only go into his room between 5 and 8 PM, when he tends to be asleep.

This period was to have been extended with the removal of the feeding tube and during a time when Vincent would have been put under deep sedation. The reason given by the hospital was that they wanted to avoid Vincent being “force fed” – that is, that his parents would attempt to feed him through the mouth. But the counter argument is that acknowledges to some degree that Vincent can eat that way, and if he can, refraining from feeding him would be illegal under French law.

Once the expert medical team has assessed Lambert’s situation and made its report to the administrative tribunal, a full judiciary decision will be handed down, with the possibility that Lambert’s transferral to a specialized unit in another health center will be ordered. In this regard, Viviane Lambert told LifeSite that she and the Lamberts’ legal team would be “very vigilant”:

“We have previously seen Vincent very sleepy – I would call it ‘drugged’. It is easy to see if someone is sleeping profoundly or whether he has been given too many tranquilizers. We will be present and watching, and if we notice anything amiss, we shall have to report it or to intervene so that the evaluation is not skewed.”

Another element that may have encouraged judge Olivier Nizet not to take Sanchez’ reasoning at its face value is the fact that 70 doctors and medical professionals specialized in the care of “vegetative” and minimally conscious brain-damaged patients published a public appeal for Vincent Lambert in the French daily Le Figaro on April 18.

They particularly criticized the “web of uncertainties and hypotheses” as well as the inherently contradictory assessment of Lambert’s situation that could be read in Dr Sanchez’ decision to stop feeding him. They called it a “dramatic and   unfathomable punishment”. Many of the signatories have over 30 or 40 years experience with people in his condition. They wrote that most of them had only read about the case in the mainstream media, which they say gave a biased idea of the situation.

Those of the 70 signatories who were able to see the more recent videos of Vincent Lambert clearly state that they are in a position to say that he is in a conscious state, that is, not in coma, and that he has the capacity to swallow and is capable of vocalization. They called the move to force his death by removing his feeding tube “euthanasia that dares not speak its name”. They also said Lambert – who survived 31 days with minimal hydration in April 2014 when the first end-of-life decision was made – gives evidence of having “an unquestionable and tenacious wish to live”.

They added that they were “extremely worried” about the more recent end-of-life decision made regarding Lambert, saying in particular that he should have been given treatment consistent with a genuine “life project”.

On that same Wednesday, Pope Francis made a plea for Lambert’s life during his public audience on Saint Peter’s Square – echoing the French Primate, cardinal Barbarin’s call for his life to be respected – as well as for that of little Alfie Evans : “I want to repeat and strongly confirm that the only master of life, from its start to its natural end, is God ! It is our duty, it is our duty to do everything to protect life. Let us think in silence and pray so that the life of every person may be respected, and specially that of our two brothers”, said the Holy Father.

Jérôme Triomphe, one of Lambert’s legal team, told LifeSite that “the Vincent Lambert case is only just beginning”. He is “confident” that the new assessment of the handicapped man’s capabilities will indeed show progress. He added that in his closing remarks last Thursday at the administrative tribunal, he called on the judge to be on the side of life, telling him he had an opportunity to become a new judge Solomon by choosing to render justice to those who want Vincent to live.

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