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France: Court allows death of quadriplegic man

August 2019

Vincent Lambert and his parents
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French officials have ruled that a paralysed man can have his life support turned off, allowing him to die.

At the end of June, the Court of Cassation, the highest court in the land, gave a final ruling that doctors can stop feeding 43-year-old Vincent Lambert.

The man, who is quadriplegic, has been in a persistent vegetative state since a road accident nearly 11 years ago, and his Catholic parents have been battling with medical professionals for years to keep their son alive.

Earlier in the year, according to news reports from Agence-France Presse (AFP), doctors at the Sebastopol Hospital in Reims finally began to remove his feeding tubes, four years after the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Mr Lambert’s parents in 2015.

However, on 20 May – the same day the doctors started to remove his feeding tubes – the parents got a Court of Appeal decision in their favour, which ordered the doctors to resume hydration and nutrition. The Vatican also intervened on 21 May, according to news reports, urging doctors to keep him alive.

Thousands of people have signed a petition to save Mr Lambert, and huge protests and marches have taken place across France as people came out in support of his parents’ quest to keep Mr Lambert alive.

According to the BBC, 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.

In May, the United Nations committee on disabled rights has also asked France to suspend any decision while it conducted its own investigation.

Following this, the case was referred to the Court of Cassation, which has now ruled that all life support mechanisms can be turned off from now.

The case also split the family, with the parents threatening to press murder charges if their son’s life support was halted, but many of Mr Lambert’s siblings, as well as his wife, have argued it was the humane thing to allow him to die.