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Vincent Lambert, man at centre of contentious right-to-die case in France, passes away

He died more than a decade after an accident that left him with severe brain damage.

Image: Shutterstock/Syda Productions

A FRENCH MAN at the centre of a legal controversy over the country’s  right-to-die legislation has died in hospital.

Vincent Lambert passed away more than a week after doctors removed his hydration and nutrition tubes, his family told AFP.

“Vincent died at 8.24 am [6.24am Irish time] this morning,” his nephew Francois Lambert told AFP.

Lambert, 42, 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.   

Left in a vegetative state, the question of whether to continue keeping him alive artificially divided both his family and France.

Doctors at a hospital in the northern city of Reims began removing the tubes on 2 July, while keeping him heavily sedated following a years-long legal battle in France’s highest courts and Europe.

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

In May, Pope Francis tweeted that it was necessary to “always safeguard life, God’s gift, from its beginning until its natural end”.

Lambert’s wife Rachel, 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, even though his wish was never put in writing.

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

Murder charges 

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

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, which said in June that doctors could legally end his life support, seen as a definitive final judgement by lawyers for his wife. 

After their efforts were spurned in France’s courts as well as by the European Court of Human Rights, Lambert’s parents threatened to file charges of murder after their son died. 

On 1 July, 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”. 

With reporting from - © AFP 2019

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