Europe court up­holds French right-to-die rul­ing

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY CEDRIC SIMON

Europe’s rights court up­held Fri­day the de­ci­sion of a French court to al­low a man in a veg­e­ta­tive state to be taken off life sup­port, in a rul­ing that could be­come a bench­mark on the con­ti­nent.

For over a year the fate of Vin­cent Lam­bert, who was left se­verely brain dam­aged and quad­ri­plegic as a re­sult of a 2008 road ac­ci­dent, has torn apart his fam­ily in a ju­di­cial tug-of-war over his right to die.

Lam­bert’s mother Vi­viane says her son is merely hand­i­capped and any at­tempt to stop life-sus­tain­ing treat­ment would amount to “dis­guised eu­thana­sia” while his wife Rachel in­sists he would not want to be kept alive ar­ti­fi­cially.

A panel of judges at the Stras­bourg-based Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights voted 12 to five that a French court de­ci­sion to stop in­tra­venously feed­ing Lam­bert did not vi­o­late Europe rights laws.

The legal drama be­gan in Jan­uary 2014, when Lam­bert’s doc­tors, backed by his wife and six of his eight sib­lings, de­cided to stop the in­tra­venous food and wa­ter keep­ing him alive in line with a 2005 pas­sive eu­thana­sia law in France.

How­ever, his deeply de­vout Catholic par­ents, half-brother and sis­ter won an ur­gent court ap­pli­ca­tion to stop the plan.

In an ap­peal, the French supreme ad­min­is­tra­tive court, known as the State Coun­cil, or­dered three doc­tors to draw up a re­port on Lam­bert’s con­di­tion and in June ruled that the de­ci­sion to with­draw care from a man with no hope of re­cov­ery was law­ful.

Lam­bert’s par­ents then took the case to Europe’s rights court which or­dered France to keep the pa­tient alive while it de­cided whether the State Coun­cil’s de­ci­sion was in line with the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion on Hu­man Rights.

Par­ents to Fight On

While the de­ci­sion re­lat­ing to the con­tentious eu­thana­sia de­bate is likely to have an im­pact across Europe, the bit­ter Lam­bert fam­ily battle is set to con­tinue in France.

The de­ci­sion to stop in­tra­venous food and wa­ter “was taken by a doc­tor and can only be car­ried out by this doc­tor,” said Jean Pail­lot, the lawyer for Lam­bert’s par­ents said be­fore the court made its de­ci­sion.

How­ever this doc­tor is no longer work­ing with Lam­bert and his par­ents plan on seek­ing a new med­i­cal de­ci­sion and tak­ing it to court once again if it goes against their wishes.

Lau­rent Pet­titi, the lawyer for Lam­bert’s wife Rachel said it was dif­fi­cult to imag­ine “how an ad­min- is­tra­tive judge could go against the de­ci­sion of the Euro­pean Court and State Coun­cil.”

Ahead of the court rul­ing on Fri­day, Lam­bert’s mother Vi­viane said she was “very dis­ap­pointed” in the fam­ily wran­gling.

“We know our son bet­ter” than the fam­ily mem­bers seek­ing to stop life-sus­tain­ing care, she told French tele­vi­sion.

She said he had “never note” ex­plain­ing his wishes.

Vi­viane be­lieves her son is show­ing signs of progress, such as lift­ing his leg or swal­low­ing and just needs bet­ter care. His par­ents want him moved to a new med­i­cal fa­cil­ity.

“They are try­ing to make us say

left a we don’t want him to go, but it is not at all the case, we don’t want him to be snuffed out,” she said ear­lier this year.

Bernard Jean­blanc, the head doc­tor at the Stras­bourg clinic where Lam­bert’s par­ents want him moved, said the pa­tient was “not in a veg­e­ta­tive state” but had a de­gree of con­scious­ness which en­abled him to in­ter­act with his en­vi­ron­ment.

His wife Rachel told AFP in an ear­lier in­ter­view that her hus­band would “never have wanted to be kept in this state.”

“Keep­ing him alive ar­ti­fi­cially, it is un­bear­able com­pared to the man he was.”

Eu­thana­sia is il­le­gal in France but Fran­cois Hol­lande pledged in his 2012 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign to look into the is­sue.

In March, law­mak­ers voted over­whelm­ingly in fa­vor of a law al­low­ing medics to place ter­mi­nally ill pa­tients into a deep sleep un­til they die.

The law also makes “living wills” — drafted by peo­ple who do not want to be kept alive ar­ti­fi­cially if they are too ill to de­cide — legally bind­ing on doc­tors.

As­sisted sui­cide is legal in Switzer­land, the Nether­lands, Bel­gium and Lux­em­bourg as well as in the U.S. states of Ver­mont, Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton.

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