French court allows man to be taken off life support

PARIS • France's highest appeals court has said that the life support mechanisms keeping a severely brain-damaged man alive can be turned off "from now", a lawyer for his wife said, in the latest legal twist in a landmark right-to-die case.

Mr Vincent Lambert, 42, has been in a vegetative state since a 2008 traffic accident. The question of whether to continue keeping him alive artificially has bitterly divided his family and the nation.

"This definitely ends the matter," said Mr Patrice Spinosi, legal counsel for Mr Lambert's wife Rachel, on Friday. Mr Lambert's wife believes the most humane course of action is to let him die.

"There is no other recourse possible because there are no more judges to appeal to," he said.

The ruling reverses a decision by another Paris court which last month ordered that Mr Lambert's feeding tubes be reinserted, just hours after doctors began switching off life support.

The Court of Cassation did not consider the arguments for or against keeping Mr Lambert alive, but only the question of whether the lower court was competent to rule on the case. In Friday's decision, it found that the appeal court was not competent in a ruling that is final.

The emotive case has taken the warring Lambert family to the top tribunals in France and Europe, with Mr Lambert's parents, who are devout Catholics, fighting a six-year legal battle to maintain his treatment.

But his wife, along with doctors, six of his siblings and a nephew, hoped Friday's decision would end the legal battle once and for all.

Lawyers for the parents are now threatening to press "murder" charges if his life support is halted.

The May 20 court decision had itself reversed an earlier ruling, giving doctors at the hospital in the north-western city of Reims the green light to remove Mr Lambert's feeding and water tubes.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 30, 2019, with the headline 'French court allows man to be taken off life support'. Print Edition | Subscribe