UN body weighs in on French right-to-die case

A UN committee has asked France to suspend any decision to withdraw life support for a man kept alive in a vegetative state for a decade, weighing in on a bitterly-disputed legal case which has torn his family apart.

UN body weighs in on French right-to-die case
Philip Lambert has been in a vegetative state since a car accident in 2008. Photo: Courtesy of the Lambert Family / AFP
The move by the UN committee on disabled rights was the latest twist in a long-running legal drama that has ignited a heated debate in France on the right to die. 
The case centres on the fate of Vincent Lambert who suffered severe brain damage after a car accident in 2008 which left him a quadriplegic. Since then, he has been kept alive through artificial nutrition and hydration at a hospital in Reims, northeastern France.
In 2014, the doctors, backed by Lambert's wife Rachel, five of his siblings and his nephew Francois decided to stop his nutrition and hydration in line with France's passive euthanasia law.
But his parents, deeply-devout Catholics, and his half-brother and sister obtained a court order to halt the move on grounds his condition might improve with better treatment.
A video posted at the time shook France as it seemed to show Lambert attempting to communicate, although a doctor condemned it as “manipulative”. 
Speaking to AFP late Saturday, Jerome Triomphe, a lawyer for Lambert's parents, said the UN committee had asked
France to suspend a decision to halt the intravenous food and water keeping him alive while it conducts its own investigation.
“The application has been filed and this international committee has begun its investigation,” he said, indicating it could take “several years”.
With the inquiry under way, the committee had asked France to ensure that Lambert's care was continued, in line with the conventions on disabled rights, Triomphe said.
In response, Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said although France would answer the UN committee, it was not under any legal requirement to abide by its request.
“We are not legally bound by this committee, but of course we will take into account what the UN says, and we will respond,” she told BFMTV on Sunday.
“All the legal appeals have been exhausted and all judicial bodies, both national and European, confirm that the medical team in charge of his case has the right to halt (Lambert's) care.”
Palliative care or specialised unit?
“This is a great accomplishment: finally, a specialised body will be able to consider the merits of the case,” Triomphe said. “Is it right for him to be in a palliative care service… or should he be in a specialised unit?” 
Since the legal battle first began, the French courts have largely backed the doctors, upholding a decision earlier this year to withdraw life support for Lambert, a former psychiatric nurse who is now 42. 
His parents then appealed to the Council of State, France's highest administrative court, and when it confirmed the decision late last month, they then turned to the European Court of Human Rights and the UN committee on disabled rights. 
In a ruling issued on Tuesday, the European court rejected their appeal for a suspension, echoing a 2015 decision. But it was accepted by the UN committee, which has given France six months to present its observations on the case. 
Gerard Chemla, lawyer for Lambert's nephew Francois, described the latest twist as “appalling”, telling AFP the UN committee's intervention “in the name of human rights, would violate the rights of a man who has been suffering  gratuitously for years”.
Active euthanasia, by which a person deliberately causes a patient's death, is illegal in France despite recent efforts to ease legislation dealing with the terminally ill.

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Video deepens row over Frenchman’s ‘right to die’

The case of a brain-damaged Frenchman who seems set to be taken off life support shook France anew on Wednesday, after his friends and family uploaded a video which they say proves that he is "far from the end of his life".

Video deepens row over Frenchman's 'right to die'
Vincent Lambert is in a paraplegic state in hospital. Photo: YouTube Screengrab
Vincent Lambert, 38, looked destined to be taken off life support after the European Court of Human Rights last week backed France's decision that he should be allowed to die.
Lambert was left a quadriplegic with severe brain damage after a 2008 road accident.
His wife supports the move, but his devout Catholic parents and some of his friends insist he is showing signs of improvement. 
But the judicial tug-of-war over his right to die has taken a new turn, just days after the European court's verdict.
Some of his friends and family who are against taking the man off life support uploaded a video to YouTube on Wednesday that they claim shows Lambert responding to them.
In the video, Emmanuel Guépin, one of Lambert's friends, speaks of how the patient is “responding” to his surroundings. Lambert's mother is heard on the phone telling him “the news is not good”, referring to the ruling from the European court. 
Guépin notes later that Lambert “reacts very strongly” to his brother with facial expressions. 
See the video here. 
However, experts have slammed the video saying that it is “manipulative”.
One of these was Professor Eric Kariger, who had worked in the team that has cared for Lambert over the years.
He told French channel Europe 1 that he had tears in his eyes watching the clip, saying that Lambert was indeed “in a serious and irreversible vegetative state”.
“It's manipulative. It's disrespectful to the patient, his wife, and their daughter, who are unable to mourn because of the relentlessness that's coming from his own family,” he said.
Lambert's mother Viviane has argued that 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.
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.
Europe backs France on right to die verdict

(Vincent Lambert's parents have been heavily involved in the case. Photo: Herve Oudin/AFP)
However, his deeply devout Catholic parents, half-brother and sister won an urgent court application to stop the plan.
The case ignited a fierce debate around euthanasia in France where it remains illegal despite recent efforts to ease legislation dealing with the terminally ill — a campaign promise by President Francois Hollande.
In March, lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favour of a law allowing medics to place terminally ill patients in 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 US states of Vermont, Oregon and Washington.