Professor Therese Callus gave a television interview on France 24 about the laws around the right to die following the Vincent Lambert case in France.
The case of Vincent Lambert, a victim of a motorcycle accident over ten years ago and who has been in a vegetative state ever since, has raised serious questions relating to the value of life, the meaning of death, and medical decision-making at the threshold of the two. Given that France has adopted End-of-Life laws which allows for the withdrawal of treatment in certain circumstances, it was ultimately the question of the role of different family members in the decision-making process, and the existence of conflict between them, that has thrust this case to the fore of media attention. The case was prolonged due to the disagreement between Vincent’s family: his wife and children agreed with the doctors’ decision to withdraw treatment and relied upon what they claimed to have been Vincent’s own wishes on the subject, in accordance with French law. His parents and siblings on the other hand refuted that Vincent would have wanted to stop treatment and claimed that French law violated his fundamental rights and discriminated against him on the basis of his disability. After exhausting all national courts and their case being rejected by the European Court of Human Rights, the parents had sought the intervention of the United Nations Committee on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, the French Supreme Court held at the end of June that any investigation which the Committee could carry out did not prevent the State hospital authorities from giving effect to the declaration by the national administrative court that the withdrawal of treatment was lawful.
Besides complex jurisdictional issues as to which courts should deal with this issue, this case highlights the difficulty in making medical treatment decisions for patients who are unable to communicate what their wishes would be. What role do family members play and what role should they play in identifying what the patient would want?
Professor Therese works predominantly in the areas of family and biomedical law. As the UK Representative in the International Academic Network on Bioethics, she has co-edited a number of comparative law collections in biomedical law and ethics.