Paralysed Frenchman at centre of 11-year legal battle dies after life support withdrawn

Paralysed Frenchman at centre of 11-year legal battle dies after life support withdrawn
Vincent Lambert in hospital. Photo: AFP
Vincent Lambert, a severely brain-damaged French patient at the heart of a right-to-die case, died on Thursday morning more than a week after doctors took him off life support, his family told AFP.

“Vincent died at 8:24 this morning,” his nephew Francois Lambert told AFP. 

Lambert was involved in a near-fatal car crash in 2008 that left him a quadriplegic with severe brain damage which doctors had long said was irreversible.   

Since then he has been the subject of a legal battle between his deeply-Catholic parents and two of his eight siblings – who fought to keep him alive – and his wife, his doctors, six other brothers and sisters and a nephew who argued that allowing him to die was the more humane option. 

READ ALSO: The story of Vincent lambert, the man at the centre of France's bitter right-to-die case

The legal battle raged for many years and involved the French court system, the European court and even the UN, but finally last week after all appeals were exhausted doctors at a hospital in the northern city of Reims took him off life support.

The case rekindled a charged debate over France's right-to-die laws, which allow so-called “passive” euthanasia for severely ill or injured patients who are being kept alive artificially with no chance of recovery. 

In May, even Pope Francis got involved, tweeting that it was necessary to “always safeguard life, God's gift, from its beginning until its natural end”.

Lambert's wife Rachel, who is his legal guardian under French law, had said her husband made clear even before his accident that he would not want to be kept alive artificially, though this was never put in writing.

Multiple medical assessments ordered by the courts over the years found that the former psychiatric nurse, who became a father shortly before his accident, had no chance of recovering.

But his parents, devout Catholics who between them have nine children, had over the years successfully challenged five different attempts by doctors to halt his life-support.

The last time they tried to do so was in May, but it was quickly overturned by a Paris appeals court.

That ruling was then taken to France's top appeals court, the Cour de Cassation, which on June 28 said doctors could legally end his life support in what was hailed as a definitive final judgement by lawyers for his wife. 

With their efforts spurned by the highest courts in France as well as by the European Court of Human Rights, Lambert's parents have threatened to file charges of “murder” when their son dies. 

On July 1, his mother Viviane turned to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in a last-ditch plea for help. 

“Without your intervention, my son, Vincent Lambert, will be euthanised because of his mental handicap,” she said. 

“He is in a state of minimal consciousness but he is not a vegetable.”

But by Monday, the couple had accepted that the death of their son was now “unavoidable”.

“We have nowhere else to turn and now it's too late. Vincent is dying,” they said in a statement through their lawyers sent to AFP, saying that his condition was now “medically irreversible”. 

In early May, the UN committee on disabled rights also asked France to keep Lambert alive while it conducted its own investigation into his fate, but the government said it was not legally bound to abide by its request. 

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