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Life support restored for “French Terri Schiavo”

VINCENT LAMBERT
HO / Courtesy of the Lambert Family / AFP
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Court intervenes after food and water removed from Vincent Lambert

In a medical case that has been compared to American Terri Schiavo, a French court on Monday ordered that nutrition and hydration continue to be provided for a quadriplegic man in a “vegetative state.”

Doctors in Reims, France, had begun ending life support for Vincent Lambert, 42, when the Paris Court of Appeal ordered it to be resumed Monday evening.

Lambert was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident in 2008, suffering severe brain injuries. He is in a minimally conscious state, can breathe without artificial aid and occasionally opens his eyes. After several years of trying to improve his condition, Lambert’s medical team recommended in 2013 that care should stop, in consultation with his wife, Rachel, said the BBC.

Lambert’s parents have been fighting that decision. Lambert’s mother Viviane, 73, Monday’s court ruling as “a very big victory.”

“They are going to restore nutrition and give him drink. For once I am proud of the courts,” she said.

An earlier judicial ruling had said that Lambert should be removed from life support. The process to remove that support had begun before Monday evening’s reversal by the Paris Court of Appeal.

The case has become central to a nationwide debate over the “right to die.” Euthanasia is illegal in France, but doctors are allowed to put terminally ill patients into deep sedation. The European Court of Human Rights had upheld the decision of a French court to allow Lambert’s life support to be removed, but doctors did not carry out the plan, amid security concerns, the BBC explained.

Pope Francis last year made a public appeal for Lambert, as well as a British infant, Alfie Evans, whose parents were fighting a hospital decision to remove him from life support.

“I entrust to your prayer people like Vincent Lambert in France and little Alfie Evans in England, and others in different countries, who live, sometimes for a long time, in a state of serious infirmity, requiring medical assistance for their basic needs,” the Pope said in an April 15 Regina Coeli address. “These are delicate situations that are very painful and complex. We pray that every patient will always be respected in his or her dignity, and treated in a way appropriate to their condition, with the whole-hearted contribution of family members, doctors and other health workers, and with great respect for life.”

On Monday the Pope tweeted on his @Pontifex account: “We pray for those who live with severe illness. Let us always safeguard life, God’s gift, from its beginning until its natural end. Let us not give in to a throwaway culture.”

During the General Audience of Wednesday April 18, Pope Francis added: “I would like to reiterate and strongly confirm that the only master of life, from its beginning to its natural end, is God. Our duty is to do everything to protect life.”

Archbishop of Reims Eric de Moulins-Beaufort issued a statement saying, “It is the honor of a human society not to let one of its members die of hunger or thirst and to do everything possible to maintain appropriate treatment until the end.

“To allow oneself to renounce it because such a cure has a cost or because it would be useless to let the human person live, would ruin the efforts of our civilization,” the archbishop continued. “The greatness of humanity consists in considering the dignity of its members, especially the most vulnerable, as inalienable and inviolable.”

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