Vegetative man’s right to die divides France

Doctors were due from Monday to start switching off the life support of a quadriplegic Frenchman who has been in...

Doctors were due from Monday to start switching off the life support of a quadriplegic Frenchman who has been in a vegetative state for the last decade, in a case that has divided France and even his own family.

But the parents of Vincent Lambert have launched last-ditch challenges to the court decision to halt the nutrition and hydration he receives in the Sebastopol Hospital in the northern French city of Reims.

The patient’s doctor, Vincent Sanchez, is due to start switching off the support systems from Monday, according to Lambert’s parents.

They want care for Lambert to continue but other relatives concur with doctors that the humane path given Lambert’s condition is to end life support.

Lambert was left quadriplegic with severe brain damage after a 2008 car accident and his case has become a symbol of the controversy over right-to-die laws in France.

Their lawyers said Sunday that the parents would be making multiple final court bids to have the treatment continued, as well as having Lambert’s doctor removed and struck off the medical register.

The lawyer for the parents, Jerome Triomphe, said three challenges were planned, without giving further details.

‘Why this rush?’

In 2014, doctors, backed by Lambert’s wife Rachel, five of his siblings and his nephew Francois, decided to stop his nutrition and hydration in line with France’s passive euthanasia law.

But his parents, devout Catholics, and his half-brother and sister obtained a court order to block the move on grounds his condition might improve with better treatment.

But early this year, a French court sided with Sanchez’s decision to stop the care keeping Lambert, now aged 42, alive.

The ruling was upheld last month by France’s State Council which decides on the validity of laws and legal decisions.

France’s Conference of Bishops added its voice to the controversy Saturday, calling on authorities to wait on an opinion being worked on by the UN committee on disabled rights.

“Why this rush to lead him to death?” the clerics asked in a statement.

The UN committee on disabled rights earlier this month asked France to suspend the decision to withdraw the life support, while it conducts its own investigation, which could take years.

France’s Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said France would answer the committee but was not under any legal requirement to abide by its request.

‘Very different matter’

The issue has also become a political controversy in the run-up to next weekend’s European elections.

Francois-Xavier Bellamy, a candidate in the European Parliament elections for the opposition Les Republicains, said he “could not understand the hurry” to switch off the support and called on President Emmanuel Macron to intervene.

“If we enter down a dangerous path which consists of saying a life that is dependent, one that is fragile, sick, is not one worth being lived, then we will build an inhumane world,” he told French television.

He said that there were 1,500 patients in a similar position to Vincent Lambert in France. The parents had also asked Macron to intervene to stop what they called a “crime of the state”.

But Nathalie Loiseau, who is standing for Macron’s party in the elections, said the head of state could not reverse a court order.

“All he (Macron) can do is pardon someone who has been condemned and this is very different to what the parents of Vincent Lambert are requesting,” she said, acknowledging that the parents were going through a “tragedy”.

French law allows so-called “passive euthanasia” for seriously ill or injured patients with no chance of recovery, in which the means for keeping someone alive are cut off.

Active euthanasia, by which a person deliberately causes a patient’s death, is illegal in France despite recent efforts to ease legislation dealing with the terminally ill.

In South Africa, the euthanasia debate has seemingly stalled after the High Court in Pretoria granted Advocate Robin Stransham-Ford an order that would allow a doctor to assist him in taking his own life back in 2015. That was later overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeal, but Stransham-Ford had already died – two hours before the initial order was granted.

The written judgment from the appeal court read:

“It was wrong to hold that the common law crimes of murder and culpable homicide needed to be or should be developed to accommodate PAE [physician-assisted euthanasia] and PAS [physician-assisted suicide].”

© Agence France-Presse

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