A Paris appeals court Monday ordered the resumption of life-support for a longtime vegetative Frenchman from whom doctors had only hours earlier begun withdrawing treatment, in a wrenching case that has divided his family and country.
The court ordered authorities “to take all measures” to keep alive Vincent Lambert, a 42-year-old quadraplegic with severe brain damage, pending a review by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Lambert’s mother, Viviane, 73, hailed the ruling as “a very big victory” in her struggle to maintain vital medical care for her son.
Doctors in France had earlier Monday halted the nutrition and hydration Lambert receives, in line with the wishes of his wife and other relatives.
Other courts this year had backed their assessment that nothing more could be done for Lambert, who has been kept alive for more than a decade, ever since a debilitating car accident in 2008.
Medical sources told AFP that Lambert could die within days or a week without the life support treatment he had been getting in the Sebastopol Hospital in the northeastern French city of Reims.
The case has re-ignited a contentious debate over France’s right-to-die laws, which allow so-called “passive” euthanasia for severely ill or injured patients with no chance of recovery.
Lambert’s parents, devout Catholics, have repeatedly launched court action to keep him alive, putting them at odds with Lambert’s wife and six siblings who believe the most humane course is to let him die.
On Monday, his mother exclaimed to AFP: “They were starting to eliminate Vincent! This is a very big victory. They are going to restore nutrition and give him drink. For once I am proud of the courts.”
But Lambert’s nephew Francis, who supported euthanasia for his uncle, said restoring treatment would be “pure sadism by the medical-judicial system”.
Before the latest court ruling, Pope Francis had weighed in Monday in favour of keeping Lambert alive.
“Let us always safeguard life, God’s gift, from its beginning until its natural end. Let us not give in to a throwaway culture,” the pontiff said.
French President Emmanuel Macron rejected calls by Lambert’s parents and others to intervene, saying “the decision to stop treatment was taken after a constant dialogue between his doctors and his wife, who is his legal representative.”
Lambert’s wife Rachel said Monday that “to see him go, is to see him as a freed man.”
“Everyone can have their own opinion and convictions… but above all, can we now have our privacy,” she told RTL radio.
‘As peaceful as possible’
Vincent Sanchez, the doctor treating Lambert who has been the target of the parents’ anger, had earlier urged the family to “rally around” Lambert as he faded away “so these moments are as peaceful, intimate as possible.”
An emotional video of Viviane comforting her son in his room, telling him not to cry as he appears to blink away tears, was later posted on the website of the conservative Valeurs Actuelles magazine.
The parents returned later Monday accompanied by two Benedictine monks who were family friends.
A Paris march took place late Monday towards the Elysee palace to call for Macron to step in. “There is still time to stop this madness,” the parents’ lawyers said.
In 2014, Lambert’s doctors, backed by his wife and siblings, decided to stop his nutrition and hydration in line with the law.
But the parents, and his half-brother and a sister obtained a court order to block the move on grounds his condition might improve with better treatment, setting off a complex and wrenching legal saga that has lasted half a decade.
Early this year, a French court sided with Sanchez’s decision to stop the care keeping Lambert alive.
The ruling was upheld last month by France’s State Council which decides on the validity of laws and legal decisions.
The UN committee on disabled rights this month asked France to suspend the decision while it conducts its own investigation, which could take years.
The French government has said it will note the committee’s deliberations but made clear there was no legal obligation for it to abide by them.
On Monday, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg rejected a request by the parents to halt the decision over the cessation of life-support pending the review by UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The court had already refused a similar request in April and said Monday there was “no new evidence” that would justify a new hearing.