Court in France says end life support for tetraplegic

France's highest court, the Council of State (file photo) Image copyright AFP
Image caption France's highest court, the Council of State

France's highest court, the Council of State, has ruled in favour of ending life support for a man who has remained in a vegetative state for six years.

Vincent Lambert, 39, was left a tetraplegic after a motorcycle accident and his family is split over whether he should be kept alive.

His parents have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.

The case is seen as unprecedented in France, where euthanasia is illegal though doctors can withdraw care.

They may do so under a 2005 law that says life should not be prolonged "artificially" through "unnecessary or disproportionate treatment".

President Francois Hollande aims to change the law next year to allow "medical assistance to end one's life in dignity".

When doctors treating Mr Lambert in hospital in Reims in north-east France decided last year that feeding and hydration through tubes should stop, his wife Rachel and some of his brothers and sisters agreed.

However, his parents, a sister and a half-brother challenged the decision to end his life and went to court. Mr Lambert's mother is said to be a devout Catholic.

The doctors said that he had minimal consciousness and no way of understanding, despite being able to feel pain and move his eyes.

One key moment was when he refused to allow his mouth to be wiped, which prompted the medical team treating him to believe he no longer wished to live.

Passive euthanasia

When a patient dies because medical professionals either do not do something necessary to keep the patient alive, or stop doing something that keeps patient alive. Examples are

  • switching off life-support machines
  • disconnecting a feeding tube
  • not carrying out a life-extending operation
  • not giving life-extending drugs

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Vincent Lambert's nephew backs the decision to end treatment but other members of the family disagree

An administrative court had ruled in favour of the parents, concluding that their rights had not been respected.

After months of legal argument that left the family torn over Mr Lambert's fate, his wife took the case to the Council of State, whose public rapporteur Remi Keller then investigated the case with the help of three experts in neuroscience.

Mr Keller concluded that there was no hope either of recovery or of food and hydration having any positive effect.

He also said the majority of medical specialists, as well as members of Mr Lambert's family, were behind the decision to stop feeding him.

Mr Lambert's wife had insisted that he had stated on several occasions that he had no wish to live in a "state of dependence", should something happen to him.

The European Court of Human Rights has the power to implement urgent, temporary measures "where there is an imminent risk of irreparable harm" and could stop doctors from cutting life support pending a review of the case.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Anti-euthanasia protesters in Paris on Tuesday

In a separate development, activists against euthanasia for old people held a protest in Paris.

Dressed as mime artists, they held placards which read "No euthanasia for 'the old'".

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