French doctors were set to begin turning off life support on Tuesday for quadriplegic road accident victim Vincent Lambert, marking the latest twist in a hugely controversial right-to-die case that has divided his family and public opinion.
The main doctor treating Lambert, Vincent Sanchez, informed his family by email that he intended to start removing life support in line with a French court ruling last Friday, according to the message which was shared with AFP.
Lambert, 42, has been in a vegetative state since a 2008 traffic accident, with his wife and parents bitterly divided over the question of whether to continue keeping him alive artificially.
Friday’s ruling by the country’s top appeals court reversed a decision by another Paris court which last month ordered that Lambert’s feeding tubes be reinserted, just hours after doctors had begun switching off life support.
The Cour de Cassation did not consider the arguments for or against keeping Lambert alive, but only the question of whether the lower court was competent to rule on the case.
In Friday’s decision, it found that the appeal court was not competent in a ruling that is final.
The emotive case has taken the warring Lambert family to the top tribunals in France and Europe, with Lambert’s parents, who are devout Catholics, fighting a six-year legal battle to maintain his treatment.
But his wife, along with doctors, six of his siblings and a nephew have been hoping Friday’s decision would end the legal battle once and for all.
Lawyers for the parents are now threatening to press “murder” charges if his life support is halted.
Right to die, or not
The case has rekindled a charged debate over France’s right-to-die laws, which allow so-called “passive” euthanasia for severely ill or injured patients with no chance of recovery.
President Emmanuel Macron had in May rejected calls by Lambert’s parents and others to intervene to keep him alive, saying the decision to stop treatment “was taken after a constant dialogue between his doctors and his wife, who is his legal representative”.
The European Court of Human Rights also rejected an appeal by Lambert’s parents.
But the UN committee on disabled rights asked France to keep Lambert alive while it conducted its own investigation into his fate — a request the French government rejected as non-binding.
Lambert’s wife says her husband had previously told her he would not want to be kept artificially alive if in a vegetative state — a position he never put in writing.
But his mother Viviane has insisted he “just needs something to drink and eat, and love”.
She, his father Pierre and two of Lambert’s other siblings are adamant that he is not at the end of his life.
The case has even drawn in Pope Francis, who tweeted last month that it was necessary to “always safeguard life, God’s gift, from its beginning until its natural end”.
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