The highest civil court in France has ordered that food and water may be removed from a severely disabled man, who has been artificially fed and hydrated in a hospital in the country for over 10 years.
The Court of Cassation ruled Friday that Vincent Lambert, 42, can be taken off life support. This is the final ruling, and there can be no appeal, the BBC reported.
This means Lambert’s parents have exhausted their legal options in their years-long fight to keep their son alive. However, the parents said Friday that they will press murder charges if Lambert is removed from food and hydration, according to AFP.
A French court had ruled in favor of euthanizing Lambert last month. He had been briefly removed from feeding and hydration tubes May 20, when a challenge passed the Paris appeals court and the hospital was ordered to return the support.
“In any other context, killing by starvation and dehydration is considered a crime against humanity,” said Alexandra Snyder, executive director of Life Legal, a group that advocates for the vulnerable, in a June 28 statement.
“Yet in France-as in the United States-we routinely impose this type of torturous death on individuals who are disabled. This has to stop. Disability should not be a death sentence.”
Euthanasia is illegal in France. However, a 2005 law allows physicians to refrain from using “disproportionate” treatments “with no other effect than maintaining life artificially.”
Lambert, 42, has been a tetraplegic and severely disabled for more than 10 years, after he sustained severe head injuries in a traffic accident in 2008.
Since then, Lambert has been at the center of a protracted court battle over whether to have his food and hydration removed. Lambert’s wife and six of his eight siblings have supported the removal of life support, while his parents have fought against it.
Vatican officials last month condemned the removal of food and hydration from Lambert.
In a joint statement May 21, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said the interruption of food and hydration entail a “serious violation of the dignity of the person.”
Lambert has been described by some medical professionals as being in a “vegetative state.” Farrell and Paglia stated that though this is a “serious pathological condition,” it does not in any way “compromise the dignity of the persons who are in this condition, nor their fundamental rights to life and care, understood as continuity of basic human assistance.”
Food and water, they continued, are a form of essential care, and do not comprise “unreasonable therapeutic obstinacy.”
The Catholic Church does not require the use of extraordinary means to preserve life, but considers the provision of food and hydration to be an ordinary standard of care.
“The suspension of [food and hydration] represents, rather, a form of abandonment of the patient, based on a merciless judgment on his quality of life, expression of a culture of waste that selects the most fragile and defenseless people, without recognizing their uniqueness and immense value,” Farrell and Paglia wrote.
They also expressed the hope that an effective solution for preserving the life of Lambert can be found, and pledged the prayers of Pope Francis and the Church for that intention.
In 2015, the European Court of Human Rights approved the removal of Lambert’s life support, arguing in a 12-5 decision, that the choice to stop his intravenous feeding did not violate European rights laws.
A lower French court had previously ruled that Lambert should continue to receive food and hydration. In January 2014 a panel of nine judges in Chalons-en-Champagne said removing food and hydration is “a grave and clearly illegal attack on the fundamental right to life.”
The panel added that Lambert is “neither sick nor at the end of his life.”
Pope Francis addressed Lambert’s case during a Regina Coeli address in April 2018. He asked for prayers for people such as Lambert, “who live, at times for a long period, in a serious state of illness, medically assisted for their basic needs.”
“Every offense or wound or violence against the body of our neighbor is an outrage to God the creator,” he said, adding that, “in the flesh of these people we find the flesh of Christ.”