French court backs ending life support for man, 38, in vegetative state

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2014, 4:49am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2014, 4:57am

France's top administrative court yesterday gave the green light to cutting life support for a 38-year-old man in a vegetative state, going against his parents' wishes to keep him alive.

The Council of State ruled that a decision taken by doctors - and supported by his wife, nephew and several siblings - to stop treating Vincent Lambert, who has been a quadriplegic since a car crash in 2008, was legal.

The verdict follows a heart-rending battle between Lambert's wife, Rachel, seeking to let the former psychiatric nurse die, and his parents, who took legal action last year to halt plans by his doctors to do that.

Apart from Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland, few countries explicitly permit euthanasia or assisted suicide - sometimes known as mercy killings.

But France, where President Francois Hollande promised prior to his 2012 election to introduce new right-to-die legislation, has left grey areas regarding more passive forms of euthanasia in a 2005 law on patient rights and care for the terminally ill.

The so-called Leonetti law does not legalise euthanasia but also states that patient treatment should not involve "excessive obstination".

Lambert's parents, devout Catholics, said even before the Council of State's ruling yesterday that they had asked the European Court of Human Rights to issue an emergency ruling on the case should the French judges go against their will to keep their son as he is.

The international rights court, based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, said it would respond "as soon as possible".

While Hollande has yet to deliver on his promise of legislation by the end of the year on the rights of the incurably ill, the legal battles over Lambert's fate and other cases has thrust the euthanasia debate firmly back onto the radar screen.

In a separate case, a hospital doctor in southwest France is on trial on charges that he used lethal injections to hasten the deaths of seven old-aged people in 2010-2011.

Agence France-Presse, Reuters