Europe

Vincent Lambert: French doctors begin halting life support

Viviane Lambert, the mother of Vincent Lambert, poses with a photograph of him in hospital Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Viviane Lambert has fought for her son's life to continue

Doctors have begun switching off the life support of a quadriplegic man whose case has been central to the right-to-die debate in France.

Vincent Lambert, 42, has been in a vegetative state since a motorcycle accident in 2008.

His care has divided both the country and his own family.

His wife has long called for his feeding tubes to be withdrawn, while his parents insist his life should continue.

Doctors at the Sebastopol Hospital in the northern French city of Reims said the action on Monday followed a final judicial ruling to end the nutrition and hydration he receives.

Family members confirmed that the systems were being switched off.

His parents' lawyer, Jean Paillot, called the move "shameful".

How did we get here?

The case has been the subject of judicial rulings, going as far as the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Europe's top court upheld the decision of a French court to allow Mr Lambert to be taken off life support. However, doctors then did not carry out the plan - amid security concerns raised by Vincent Lambert's father, who feared there was a plan to kidnap him.

A new medical team are now moving forward with withdrawing his care, as further appeals have been dismissed.

Image copyright Handout via AFP
Image caption Vincent Lambert, seen here in 2015, suffered irreversible brain damage but is not on a respirator

But not everyone agrees with the decision.

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.

Why did the case go to court?

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

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 the lengthy legal battle over his care began.

His wife, six of his siblings and his nephew favour artificial life-support being ended - but his devoutly Roman Catholic parents, Pierre and Viviane, and two other siblings have remained adamant it should continue.

At the height of the row, in 2015, Mr Lambert's parents released a video via a conservative Catholic website on YouTube which they said showed him reacting to family members.

Doctors involved in his care complained that the video was misleading about his condition and manipulative to the wider public.

Calls for intervention

The UN's Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had called on France to intervene and delay the move to withdraw the life support while they investigate his case further.

However, France's ministry of health has said it is not bound by the committee.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The case has become central to France's "right to die" debate

"All legal appeals have been exhausted and all judicial bodies, both national and European, confirm that the medical team in charge of his case has the right to withhold care," said Minister Agnès Buzyn.

The European Court of Human Rights said it rejected a further request on Monday by Mr Lambert's parents and siblings for the UN committee's calls to be observed.

The court said they "had submitted no new evidence such as to induce it to change its position" on the matter.

Mr Lambert's parents have also appealed to France's defender of rights to intervene but the commissioner said it was not a matter he could resolve.

In an open letter published over the weekend, they asked President Emmanuel Macron for help.

"Mr President, Vincent Lambert will die without hydration in the week of 20 May if you do nothing and you are the last and only one able to intervene," read the letter, signed by lawyers for family members opposed to ending the life support.

"In France, in 2019, no one should die of hunger and thirst."

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