Back

A House Divided: A Family’s Fight for Vincent Lambert’s Life, and Death

You may be following the story in the news of late of the French man, Vincent Lambert, whose injuries in a 2008 car crash left him brain damaged and a quadriplegic. His parents have been seeking international legal recourse to prevent “his assassination” (as deemed by his father Pierre) by a French court ruling that his life support be ceased. The life support being made available to Vincent comes in the form of a feeding tube that supplies his intake of food and drink. He is breathing independently and shows signs of consciousness and acknowledgement of his surroundings.

On July 2, 2019, Viviane Lambert sought the aid of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Geneva in an attempt to save her son from being starved to death.

“Today I am sending you a cry for help. Without your intervention, my son, Vincent Lambert, will be euthanized by a doctor because of his cerebral disability. He is in a state of minimal consciousness: he is not a vegetable! He sleeps at night, wakes up during the day, and looks at me when I talk to him. He only needs to receive his food through a tube. And it is that tube that his doctor wants to deprive him of, in order to make him die, even though a team of legal experts has stated that he is not being subjected to any kind of therapeutic aggressiveness.”[1]

This is the second time the Lamberts have taken drastic steps in order to save their son. In May, a different set of doctors also tried to remove the means by which Vincent is fed, but a French court overruled that attempt.

It seems Vincent’s wife and some of his siblings take a different position and do not want to keep him alive via the feeding tube, so that he can die “with dignity”. One can understand how hard it must be for these family members to witness him in a state quite unlike what they’d known in his life prior to his life-altering car accident. Before he sustained his injuries, Vincent was a caregiver by profession - a psychiatric nurse.

No one wants to see someone they love suffer. Having to constantly witness a person lay motionless and at the mercy of others for his continual sustenance would be devastating: feelings of hopelessness and meaninglessness could surely arise if not abound.

All the details of this case are not clearly known - save to God Himself. Only God could know to what extent Vincent is engaged in life and how deeply he experiences the world at this point in his journey when he is left without a voice. Still, Vincent speaks.

His mother shared this experience she had with her son when he was scheduled to be removed from feeding tube nutrition the first time: “On May 19, on the day before his scheduled death, (Vincent) cried when he saw us. We are still deeply shaken.” [2]

Discernment is difficult - even heart wrenching - for loving family members who are attempting to make decisions that are in the “best interest” of their sick or injured loved one. Some questions it seems are begging to be asked: “What makes a life worth living?” “Who is to determine which lives are worth living?”, and “What criteria are being considered in determining whether a person is alive?” among them.

The Orthodox Christian teachings on the sanctity of life hold that every human being created is a unique, loving expression of the image of his or her Creator. Is Vincent Lambert any less an image of His Creator because he needs an extra dose of help to stay alive? Do not most of us require some (if not much) assistance to stay alive?

Consider that when a child is in his formative years, he is extremely dependent upon caregivers to survive. He cannot feed himself, and even when he learns this skill, he is not able to prepare the food. Any sane parent would not think of withholding nourishment based on the premise that his life is not viable since he cannot provide for his own needs. The child’s parent is the means by which he is nourished – the living feeding tube if you will. Even for the time that our children are living under our roofs, it is by our work and toil that they receive their daily bread, and by the Grace of God that resources are available in the way of jobs, food, clothing, and shelter.

My son was in the NICU of a children’s hospital for months of his newborn life. After a few weeks of intensive care where he was struggling to take in enough calories orally to sustain his growth, the head NICU nurse said matter-of-factly to me “Our boy needs a g-tube. It’s time.” I was very upset about this. How unnatural it seemed to me to surgically insert a port into his stomach. I was hoping his body could manage without taking that extra measure. We decided to heed her advice, believing that it would help free up energy for his small and struggling body to use more efficiently.

This g-tube has not only saved my son once, but also allowed him to grow stronger and to be spared multiple hospitalizations due to dehydration when the inevitable common cold would make him resist any fluid intake by mouth. A kind woman who helped encourage our family during our NICU experience once saw my dismay over the many tubes used to monitor our child’s body functions and to help him take in or discharge whatever his body needed help doing. She said something that always stays with me “Think of them (the tubes) as helping hands”. Today’s advancements in medical technology, when used to support and enhance life, are precisely that – helping hands.

These helping hands have given us a lifetime of possibilities. My son has a full life. He enjoys simple pleasures, he laughs, he cries, he loves and he is deeply loved. His life is not always easy and he has had his share of suffering, but that suffering is a common thread of the human experience. In fact, one could argue that such suffering makes him more intimately fashioned in the likeness of the God-Man, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Son of God came to us as a “suffering servant”, not in pomp or worldly perfection: He (was) despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” (Isaiah 53:3)

The Son of God was deprived of drink in his dying moments. “I thirst!” (John 19:28) were among His final words as He was being put to death on the Cross, vinegar offered to Him instead of water. The son of Pierre and Viviane Lambert cries out through his parents, “I thirst!” and in the same way as His Savior experienced 2000 years ago, he is being denied physical relief as he suffers his own death sentence. Alas, their attempts to save his life were not successful this time, and Vincent is in the midst of his last hours on this earth.

May the Victory that Christ won over Death be Vincent’s and his parents’ comfort and hope in this fallen world that so readily discards human life and turns a blind eye to the sacred image that each human being bears. Vincent may be deprived of his bodily voice, but his precious life speaks. If only we would “have ears to hear”. (Matt 11:15)

 

By Presvytera Melanie DiStefano

 

[1] Smits, J. (2019, July 2) Dehydration and Starvation of France’s Vincent Lambert Begins. Retrieved from www.lifesitenews.com.

[2] Smits, J. (2019, July 2) Dehydration and Starvation of France’s Vincent Lambert Begins. Retrieved from www.lifesitenews.com.

 

Stephanie Orfanakos
Posts: 8
Stars: 0
Date: 11/16/19
Stewardship & Outreach
Posts: 11
Stars: 0
Date: 11/1/19
Presvytera Melanie DiStefano
Posts: 5
Stars: 0
Date: 10/15/19
Jamil Samara
Posts: 14
Stars: 0
Date: 9/24/19
Fr. Alexander Goussetis
Posts: 4
Stars: 0
Date: 7/29/19
Family Care
Posts: 11
Stars: 0
Date: 7/11/19
Steven Christoforou
Posts: 38
Stars: 0
Date: 4/16/19
Spyridoula Fotinis
Posts: 1
Stars: 0
Date: 3/29/19
Rev. Dr. Nicolas Kazarian
Posts: 2
Stars: 0
Date: 1/31/19
Rev. Dr. Tony Vrame
Posts: 29
Stars: 1
Date: 10/12/18