The Vincent Lambert Affair: chronology of events
29 September 2008: At the age of 32, Vincent Lambert was plunged into a deep coma by a serious car accident. Hospitalised at the re-animation unit at the Hospital complex of Chalons-en-Champagne, he woke to a so-called “poorly relational” state.
July 2011: Prof. Steven Laureys, an eminent neurologist specialised in the mechanisms of consciousness, examines the young man and concludes his state of consciousness as “minimal plus”, which implies “the persistence of emotional perception, and the existence of possible reactions to his environment”. He encourages those close to him and the carers to put a communication code into place with Vincent.
16 November 2011: Vincent is admitted to the service of Dr Kariger, in the palliative care unit of the Sebastopol hospital in Rheims reserved for patients in a poorly-relating state. He does not need any particular medical treatment, just to be fed and hydrated by a gastric tube.
10 April 2013: According to a collegial court ruling, and with the agreement of his wife Rachel Lambert but without telling either his parents, or brothers and sisters, the hospital decides to put an end to Vincent’s life by stopping feeding and drastically reducing hydration. Behind this decision were some signs of his opposition to some medical actions at the start of 2013, which, according to the medical team, “led one to suspect a refusal to live”.
26 April 2013. The parents learn the news and categorically oppose the decision. Faced with the refusal of the medical staff, they file a statement with the Prosecutor of the Republic and hire a bailiff to demand that feeding be resumed.
9 May 2013. Following the persistent refusal of Dr Kariger, they request an emergency court injunction.
11 May 2013. The administrative tribunal of Châlons-en-Champagne orders that feeding be immediately resumed, since the correct collegial procedure had not been respected. Vincent subsequently survives, although having been deprived of food for 31 consecutive days.
Second Semester 2013: Two more attempts are made to bring an end to Vincent’s life. One is by his wife before the court injunction, the other by a half-nephew who questions the administrative tribunal, but the judge upholds his decision. During this period, Dr Kariger contests the collegial procedure again, carries out several consultations with medical staff and members of the family, and reaches a new decision to implement the protocol to end Vincent’s life, starting from 13 January 2014.
16 January 2014. The administrative tribunal of Châlons-en-Champagne reiterates its annulment of Dr Kariger’s decision to end Vincent’s life, because the wishes of Vincent Lambert himself are not clearly established, and because Unreasonable Continuance of Treatment has not been established. The room of the young man is then put under permanent surveillance/observation, with limited access to him.
End of January 2014: Rachel and Vincent’s semi-nephew then decide to appeal the State Counsel. The situation is new in that the highest administrative jurisdiction in the country is being called upon to pronounce on the legality of a decision whose purpose is to put an end to a person’s life.
14 February 2014: The State Counsel orders that a team of three doctors specialized in neuroscience be consulted for the Vincent Lambert case, in order to have a complete and up-to-date overview of his state of health. The appointed neurologists : Lionel Naccache (for the CCNE – National Consultative Committee on Ethics for life & health), Marie-Germaine Bousser (for the Academy of Medicine) and Jacques Luauté (for the Order of Doctors of Medicine). It also calls upon these three national bodies and upon MP Jean Leonetti to provide observations to elucidate the medical and ethical implications.
17 April 2014: The National Counsel of the Order of Doctors publishes its contribution and concludes : “…when a person reaches a situation where artificial life-support sustains only his bodily life, (…) there being no clinical sign or investigation allowing one to hope for any change for the better, the conditions of an Unreasonable Continuance of Treatment can be regarded as upheld, indicating thus the putting into action of the collegial procedure [for terminating support].”
5 May 2014: The National Consultative Committee on Ethics (CCNE) submits its observations. The document notes this essential point: “Simply the fact of an irreversible dependence on nutritional assistance to live, without hope of improvement, does not of itself characterise – we underline, of itself – an artificial maintaining of life and an Unreasonable Continuance of Treatment.”
15 May 2014: The Academy of Medicine publishes its reflections: “It is not in the mission of the doctor to provoke death deliberately. (…) No doctor can accept that the right of a person (…) to food, other treatments (physiotherapy, prevention of bed-sores, hygiene) and measures appropriate to the quality of life, should be subordinated to his capacity to relate“.
23 June 2014: On the eve of the decision of the State Counsel, there is a fatal foreboding/premonition t for Vincent, judging by the recommendations of his public reporter. Vincent’s parents enter into urgent contact with the European Court of human Rights (CEDH).
24 June 2014: The State Counsel judges the medical decision legal to put an end to the feeding and hydration of Vincent Lambert, considering that it is a case of treatment that the doctor can legitimately stop, being a case of Unreasonable Continuance of Treatment. However, the same day the CEDH request that the French government suspend the execution of the State Counsel’s decision (for the stopping of treatment), for the length of time its own procedure takes.
24 September 2014: Rachel Lambert publishes “Vincent, because I love you, I want to let you go”. (“Vincent, parce que je l’aime, je veux te laisser partir”, Fayard)
2 January 2015: The National Union of Associations of Families of patients with Cranial Trauma & lesion (UNAFTC) write to President Francois Hollande.
8 January 2015; Dr Kariger publishes “My truth in the Vincent Lambert affair” (“Ma vérité sur l’affaire Vincent Lambert”, Bayard).
4 May 2015: A letter from his mother, Viviane Lambert, dated the 22nd April and addressed to the President of the Republic, is made public: “ The life of my son has become a judicial and media affair that has suspended everything, but you don’t suspend, Mr President, a minimum of humanity”.
7 May 2015: Viviane Lambert publishes “For the life of my son” (“Pour la vie de mon fils”, Plon).
27 May 2015: Viviane Lambert writes for a second time to Francois Hollande: “My son is handicapped, not dying.”
5 June 2015: The CEDH (European Commission on Human Rights) announces its judgment upholding the decision of the State Counsel.