Top French court authorises ending life of quadriplegic

PARIS (AFP) - France's top administrative court on Tuesday gave the green light to ending life support for a 38-year-old in a vegetative state, going against his parents' wish to keep him alive.

The case of Mr Vincent Lambert, who has been a quadriplegic since a car crash in 2008, has torn his family apart at a time of intense debate in France over euthanasia and the high-profile trial of a doctor accused of poisoning seven terminally ill patients.

Doctors treating Mr Lambert in the northeastern city of Reims, as well as his wife, nephew and six of his eight siblings want to cut off intravenous food and water supplies.

But his deeply religious Catholic parents, one brother and one sister oppose the decision.

Mr Jean-Marc Sauve, vice president of the State Council, noted that Mr Lambert had stated before his accident that he would not want to be kept alive artificially.

The council "underscored that the most serious medical condition, including the irreversible loss of all consciousness, can never be enough to justify stopping treatment," he said.

But it said that "special attention should be given to the patient's will."

When doctors decided to cut life support, Mr Lambert's parents took the case to a court near Reims, which ruled against ending his life earlier this year.

The case was brought to the State Council on appeal, and Mr Lambert's parents have now taken it to the European Court of Human Rights, which has the power to temporarily stop doctors from cutting life support pending a review of the case.

The move to take him off life support is allowed in France, where passive euthanasia - the act of withholding or withdrawing treatment that is necessary to maintain life - was legalised in 2005.

The State Council's decision mirrors conclusions reached Friday by the court's public rapporteur Remi Keller, a magistrate responsible for examining the case.

He recommended ending Mr Lambert's life, saying there was no hope of recovery.

"The food and hydration being provided to Vincent Lambert are having no other effect than to keep him artificially in his current state," Mr Keller said.

Mr Lambert's wife Rachel told Europe 1 radio earlier Tuesday that she wanted the council to follow his conclusions, so that "we let Vincent go peacefully, with dignity."

Mr Jean Leonetti, who penned the law that legalised passive euthanasia, welcomed the State Council's decision.

"This decision is not the validation of an act of euthanasia, but rather the refusal of prolonging life by relentless treatment," he said in a statement.

The trial of mercy killing doctor Nicolas Bonnemaison is meanwhile due to close at the end of this week.

On Tuesday prosecutors called for a five-year - potentially suspended - prison sentence for the emergency room doctor.