European rights court mulls whether to let French quadriplegic die

Reynaldo Santos Jr
European rights court mulls whether to let French quadriplegic die
The case of Vincent lambert has torn his family apart and ignited a fierce euthanasia debate in France

STRASBOURG, France – Europe’s human rights court will on Wednesday, January 7, weigh whether a man in a vegetative state should be taken off life support in a case that has torn his family apart and ignited a fierce euthanasia debate in France. 

Vincent Lambert, 38, who was left severely brain damaged and quadriplegic as a result of a 2008 road accident, has for months been at the centre of a judicial drama over his right to die.

In January 2014, Lambert’s doctors, backed by his wife and 6 of his 8 siblings, decided to stop the intravenous food and water keeping him alive in line with a 2005 passive euthanasia law in France which allows treatment maintaining life to be withheld.

His 33-year-old wife, Rachel, who is a psychiatric nurse, said he would never have wanted to be kept alive artificially, while doctors said that their patient was “suffering.”

However, his deeply religious Catholic parents, half-brother and sister won an urgent court application to stop the plan.

In an appeal, the French supreme administrative court, known as the State Council, ordered three doctors to draw up a report on Lambert’s condition and in June ruled that the decision to withdraw care from a man with no hope of recovery was lawful.

Lambert’s parents then took the case to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, which ordered France to keep Lambert alive while they decided whether the State Council’s decision was in line with the European Convention on Human Rights.

“Keeping him alive artificially, it is unbearable compared to the man he was,” Rachel told Agence France-Presse. “We discussed this and he would never have wanted to be kept in this state.”

But a lawyer for his parents said that stopping treatment would amount to euthanasia.

“Vincent Lambert is not at the end of his life and he would improve if he was receiving better care,” lawyer Jean Paillot said.

The European Court of Human Rights is expected to take up to two months to deliver its judgement in the case, one of several stirring passions among supporters and opponents of euthanasia.

Euthanasia is illegal in France but Francois Hollande pledged in his 2012 presidential campaign to look into the issue.

In December lawmakers unveiled proposals for a bill that would allow doctors to place terminally-ill patients into a deep sleep until they died.

Critics slammed the move as masking euthanasia as sedation, while the pro-euthanasia camp was disappointed the proposal steered clear of assisted suicide, a practice that allows a doctor to provide patients with all the necessary lethal substances to end their life but lets them carry out the final act.

Lawmakers are due to debate the issue this month. –

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