France: Brain-damage patient dies after right-to-die row

France: Brain-damage patient dies after right-to-die row
France: Brain-damage patient dies after right-to-die row. AFP/FAMILY HANDOUT
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Victor Lambert, the French patient at the center of a passive euthanasia controversy, died in hospital on Thursday after doctors removed his feeding and hydration tubes.

Lambert's fate had been the subject of a bitter legal dispute over the past six years that divided both his family and public opinion in France.

Read more: German court clears two doctors present as patients committed suicide

A devastating car crash in 2008 left the 32-year-old psychiatric nurse quadriplegic and in a vegetative state. Doctors declared that his condition was irreversible in 2011.

In 2013, the hospital where Lambert was being treated began to remove his life support, in line with the wishes of Lambert's wife and six of his siblings. However, Lambert's devoutly Catholic parents and two other siblings successfully contested the decision, and his life support was restored.

Although that decision was overruled at a national and a European level, another attempt to remove life support was abandoned in 2015, with doctors citing security concerns because of pro-life activists.

Multiple medical assessments were ordered by courts over the years, as the legal wrangle played out. Finally, Lambert's wife Rachel and the medical team at Reims University Hospital prevailed with France's top court ruling that doctors could remove his feeding tubes.

Read more: Australian state legalizes voluntary euthanasia

In the most recent appeal against the medical decision — to the UN's top rights body in Geneva last week — Lambert's 73-year-old mother argued that her son was "minimally conscious" but "not a vegetable."

In early May, the UN committee on disabled rights had asked France to keep Lambert alive while it carried out its own investigation. However, the French government said it was not legally bound to honor the request.

As well as dividing Lambert's family, the case also sparked fierce debate within France — and further afield —between conservative Catholics and those in favor of a right to die.

rc/ng (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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