French court hands down final death sentence in Terri Schiavo-like case

by Joni B. Hannigan, Editorial Staff |
Viviane Lambert, the mother of Vincent Lambert, waits for the start of a hearing concerning the case of her son at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, January 7. Vincent Lambert, 38, a tetraplegic since a road traffic accident in 2008, receives nutrition and hydration, considered artificial life support. France's top court ruled in favor of his wife, Rachel, June 23 that his nutrition and hydration could be removed over her and her husband's objections, and that of some of his siblings. | REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

FRANCE (Christian Examiner) – The top administrative court in France ruled June 23 that 39-year-old Vincent Lambert, a tetraplegic man, could be removed from life support -- a feeding tube and hydration -- seven years after an accident incapacitated him, causing a bitter feud between family members and fueling a debate over active euthanasia, known otherwise as "mercy killing."

Vincent Lambert, 38, received a profound brain injury seven years ago after a motorbike accident in France. After a year of legal rulings fueling a right-to-die discussion about euthanasia, France's top court ruled June 23 his nutrition and hydration will be removed. |

Lambert sustained injuries that left him brain-damaged since a motorbike incident on his way to work in September 2008, according to a report in Reuters.

Since April 2013 the family has wrestled over his care while the courts and lawyers wrangled over the legal issues.

In France, the Council of State sided with Lambert's wife, Rachel, who last year was set to remove feeding and hydration before his parents, who are Catholic, received a court injunction against the action.

Active euthanasia is forbidden in most of the world, but in France, President Francois Hollande made an election promise in 2012 to introduce "right-to-die" legislation.

In European nations the discussion of removal of nutrition and hydration appears to assume the end of those life sustaining measures presumes some measure of active euthanasia can be expected to ease the suffering such a death provokes.

Many family members are willing to take on the responsibility of care and the long, hard work of rehabbing their loved ones to higher levels of consciousness. All they ask is for the right to do so.

Terri Schiavo, a 42-year-old woman who collapsed and became brain-damaged when she was 26 was an American woman who died after a Florida judge issued an order, at the request of her husband, to remove all nutrition and hydration. Like in the Lambert case, her spouse disagreed with her Catholic parents over what her wishes would have been.

Schiavo's death was not gradual, but it took the young woman 13 days to finally dehydrate and die. In the case that received world-wide recognition, Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband was represented George Felos, a prominent right-to-die attorney. The Denver-based End-of-Life Choices – formerly known as the Hemlock Society -- also launched a campaign while her case was in the Florida courts.

Both her attorney and her husband – and the judge in the case, have spoken about the issue – as advocates of living wills.

Unlike in the Schiavo case – there appears no attempt to disguise euthanasia, or "mercy killing," as the goal of a new French law that would go even further than one that passed in 2005, the same year that Schiavo was ordered to death.

The new law being discussed in light of the Council of Europe would allow for doctors to consider the request of a terminally ill patient to be put into a "deep sleep" until death, Huffington Post reports.

Bobby Schindler Jr., brother of Terri Schiavo, and executive director of the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network, wrote in a June 16 news release the Lambert case is a reminder of Terri's in many ways.

"Since Terri's death, there have been dramatic breakthroughs in treatment and promise of new technologies on the horizon," Schindler said. "There are documented cases in which brain-injured patients become capable of moderate levels of consciousness and actually regain some level of functionality. There are also cases on record where such patients regain full functionality and today live active, independent lives."

Noting this is the 10 year anniversary of Terri Schiavo's death, a time when some may also talk about the intervention of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who recently announced his bid as a GOP nominee for president – Schindler said Bush was "sincere" and was instrumental in passing Terri's Law, considered one of the most bi-partisan laws enacted at the time. "He never backpedaled and he worked hard to help Terri," Schindler said.

With hopes that any prospective nominee for president would "support efforts to protect people in medically vulnerable situations," Schindler said a growing number of laws put life and death treatment decisions in the hands of hospital boards, ethics committees, and healthcare professionals.

"Many family members are willing to take on the responsibility of care and the long, hard work of rehabbing their loved ones to higher levels of consciousness," Shindler said. "All they ask is for the right to do so."