We quote a New York Times article published on May 21 2019, “French medical professionals said that Mr Lambert’s condition had been stable for ten years and that gauging his state of consciousness was too complex to reach an undoubted conclusion. To decide in the place of people who cannot express themselves, to judge that their life is not dignified or ‘has no meaning,’ is neither ethical nor scientifically justifiable, they wrote. (Le Monde, May. 20, 2019)”
The NYT article gives the recent news that reignited de intense debate and makes a review of the case,
PARIS — Just hours after doctors stopped artificially feeding and hydrating a 42-year-old Frenchman who has spent more than a decade in a vegetative state, a French court ruled late on Monday night that he must be put back on life support.
“To decide in the place of people who cannot express themselves, to judge that their life is not dignified or ‘has no meaning,’ is neither ethical nor scientifically just”
It was a stunning twist in the case of the man, Vincent Lambert, a nurse who was left in a vegetative state after a motorvehicle accident in 2008 and whose situation has bitterly divided his family and put him at the center of a right-to-die debate in France.
Earlier on Monday, doctors at a hospital in the northeastern city of Reims had stopped artificially feeding and hydrating him and began administering strong doses of sedation.
The decision to remove Mr Lambert from life support was announced this month after a series of rulings, despite staunch opposition from his parents. Mr Lambert’s wife, Rachel Lambert, has maintained that her husband had verbally expressed that he did not want to be kept alive in a vegetative state.
“In full agreement with the affirmations of the Archbishop of Reims, H.E. Msgr. Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, and the auxiliary bishop, H.E. Msgr. Bruno Feillet, in relation to the sad case of Mr. Vincent Lambert, we wish to reiterate the grave violation of the dignity of the person that the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration would constitute. Indeed, the “vegetative state” is certainly a burdensome pathological state, which however does not in any way compromise the dignity of those people who find themselves in this condition, nor does it compromise their fundamental rights to life and to care, understood as the continuity of basic human assistance.” (Joint Declaration of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life and the Pontifical Academy for Life on the case of Mr. Vincent Lambert, 21.05.2019)
#VincentLambert, voilà l’homme qu’ils sont en train de mettre à mort au CHU de Reims.
Vincent est vivant et handicapé. Hier, devant ses parents il a pleuré.
Vidéo de @Valeurs pic.twitter.com/ZLkP41G1Q6
— Je soutiens Vincent (@SoutienVincent) 20 May 2019
The article continues, Lawyers for Mr Lambert’s parents had announced a flurry of legal challenges to reverse the decision to take him off life support, but few expected that they would succeed. One of the challenges, filed with the European Court of Human Rights, was quickly rejected, citing the absence of “new evidence.”
The court ruled that France had to delay the decision to halt Mr Lambert’s life support, pending review of his situation by a United Nations-affiliated body, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, where Mr Lambert’s parents had referred his case.
Jean Paillot, a lawyer for Mr Lambert’s parents, told reporters in Paris that it was an “extraordinary victory” and that Mr Lambert’s artificial feeding and hydration had to resume “without delay.”
Media and politician reaction
But Mr. Macron said in a Facebook message on Monday that while he had been “deeply moved” by Mr Lambert’s situation, and that there were no “simple or unequivocal” answers to end-of-life questions, it was not his role “to suspend a decision that is up to the assessment of doctors and that is in conformity with our laws.”
The vegetative state of a patient never justify withdrawing basic care, hydration, nutrition and hygiene
Read universal medical principle Basic human care
A vegetative state can be defined as a condition that occurs when the part of the brain that controls thought and behavior no longer works, but vital functions such as the sleep cycle, body temperature control and breathing persist. People in a vegetative state can sometimes open their eyes and have basic reflexes, but they do not have a meaningful response to stimulation or display any sign of experiencing emotions.
Because Mr Lambert did not leave written instructions about his end-of-life wishes, disagreements over his current state and what he would have wanted are at the heart of his family’s divisions.
Mr Lambert’s parents and their supporters argue that because he is not terminally ill, he a disabled person who does not fall under the purview of France’s legislation regarding end-of-life situations.
“It’s a crime, that’s all,” Viviane Lambert, Mr Lambert’s mother, told reporters outside the hospital in Reims on Monday, after her son’s life support was halted. “I’m ashamed for France.”
On several occasions, including on Monday, Mr Lambert’s parents have released videos of him in attempts to show that he still reacts to stimulation.
“To see him leave is to see him as a free man,” Ms Lambert told RTL radio on Monday.
Dr. Régis Aubry, the head of palliative care at the Besançon hospital and a member of a governmental advisory body on bioethics issues, said there were about 1,500 to 1,700 people in France in a state similar to Mr Lambert’s, but that requests to cease artificial hydration and nutrition were rare, and that in a majority of cases families and doctors came to an agreement on end-of-life decisions. What made Mr Lambert’s case stand out, he said, was the level of disagreement between family members, and the intense media scrutiny that followed.
Modesty should be paramount when handling these questions, nothing that much is still unknown about the consciousness of vegetative patients, and that legislation could never cover each and every individual case. “Only a discussion between respectful people can lead to the answer that is less bad.”
Years of legal battles followed. The Council of State, the highest administrative court in France, and the European Court of Human Rights, both ruled last month that Mr Lambert could be taken off life support.
Mr. Lambert’s case has also become increasingly politicized in recent weeks. Some politicians, like the former Socialist presidential candidate Benoît Hamon, called for the legalization of assisted suicide.
Others, particularly those on the right, criticized the decision to halt Mr Lambert’s life support said that the decision “opened the way for the most dangerous and most worrying abuses.”
Mr. Lambert’s case is reminiscent of other high profile disputes over a person’s right to live or die. The family of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who spent 15 years in a persistent vegetative state before her feeding tube was removed in 2005, were similarly divided. Her case went on to stoke debate in the United States and beyond.