Vincent Lambert: French court ends life support tug-of-war

Handout file photo taken and released by the family of Vincent Lambert in June 2015 Image copyright Handout via AFP
Image caption Vincent Lambert, seen here in 2015, suffered irreversible brain damage but is not on a respirator

France’s highest court has given a final ruling that doctors can stop feeding a man who has been in a persistent vegetative state since a road accident nearly 11 years ago.

The Court of Cassation overturned an appeal court ruling issued on 20 May. There can be no further appeal.

The case of quadriplegic Vincent Lambert, 42, has divided his family and the nation. It has become central to the right-to-die debate in France.

His parents battled to keep him alive.

But his wife, along with six of Mr Lambert’s siblings and a nephew, argued that the humane course was to let him die.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled against the parents in 2015 but doctors did not immediately fulfil the plan to turn off his life support until last month, because of security concerns.

On 20 May the doctors, at the Sebastopol Hospital in the northern city of Reims, began removing his feeding tubes.

But within hours the Paris Court of Appeal dramatically ordered them to resume hydration and nutrition and the case was referred to the Court of Cassation.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Viviane Lambert has fought for her son’s life to continue

The high-profile case has proved extremely divisive in France, where euthanasia is illegal but doctors are allowed to put terminally ill patients into deep sedation.

Mr Lambert is a former psychiatric nurse who has been in a quadriplegic state of paralysis, with minimal consciousness, since a motorbike accident in 2008.

He has been kept alive with food and water delivered through a gastric tube. He can breathe without artificial aid and occasionally opens his eyes.

After several years of trying to improve his condition, Mr Lambert’s medical team recommended in 2013 that care should stop, in consultation with his wife Rachel.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Rachel Lambert insists her husband would “never have wanted to be kept in this state”

Because the rest of his family were not consulted, the decision was challenged and a lengthy legal battle over his care began.

His devoutly Roman Catholic parents, Pierre and Viviane, and two of his siblings remained adamant the care should continue.


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