Doctors start halting support for vegetative Frenchman

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Reims (France) (AFP) – French doctors Monday began switching off the life support of a quadriplegic man who has been in a vegetative state for the last decade, in a hugely controversial case that has divided France.

The dispute over the fate of Vincent Lambert, 42, who was left with severe brain damage after a traffic accident in 2008, has split his own family and even become a subject of political tension in France ahead of the weekend’s European elections.

His parents, devout Catholics, have repeatedly launched court action to keep him alive, putting them at odds with Lambert’s wife and five siblings who believe the most humane course is to let him die.

Following a final judicial ruling to end the nutrition and hydration Lambert receives, doctors Monday started halting his life support at the Sebastopol Hospital in the northern French city of Reims.

Medical sources told AFP that under these conditions it would mean that Lambert dies within days or a week.

Jean Paillot, the lawyer for Vincent Lambert’s parents, said they would launch multiple legal challenges in a last-ditch bid to prevent Lambert dying, including with the Paris court of appeal and the criminal court of Reims.

– ‘As peaceful as possible’ –

Vincent Sanchez, the doctor treating Lambert who has been the target of the parents’ anger, said in a message to the family that the “halting of treatments” and “profound and continued sedation” had been initiated.

In the message seen by AFP, he urged everyone to “rally around him (Vincent Lambert) so these moments are as peaceful, intimate and personal and possible.”

The parents’ lawyers had at the weekend said they wanted Sanchez removed from the case and also struck off France’s medical register.

In a statement, the lawyers accused Sanchez of “violating all his obligations” while adding that “there is still time to stop this madness”.

The family has been torn asunder by the case.

“They are monsters! Monsters!,” said his mother Viviane, 73, as she came to the hospital on Monday. The day earlier she had organised a demonstration outside with her husband Pierre, 90.

“I want to see my son before he goes to sleep.”

But Lambert’s wife Rachel, five of his siblings and his nephew Francois, have all backed the decision to begin switching off the systems, agreeing this is the humane path given his condition.

They have generally steered clear of commenting to the media in what has been a complex and wrenching legal saga lasting half a decade.

French law allows so-called “passive euthanasia” for seriously ill or injured patients with no chance of recovery, in which the means for keeping someone alive are cut off.

In 2014, Lambert’s doctors, backed by his wife and siblings, decided to stop his nutrition and hydration in line with the law.

But the parents, and his half-brother and sister obtained a court order to block the move on grounds his condition might improve with better treatment.

But early this year, a French court sided with Sanchez’s decision to stop the care keeping Lambert alive.

The ruling was upheld last month by France’s State Council which decides on the validity of laws and legal decisions.

The UN committee on disabled rights earlier this month asked France to suspend the decision, while it conducts its own investigation, which could take years. The French government has made clear there is no legal obligation to abide by this.

– ‘Very different matter’ –

Francois-Xavier Bellamy, a candidate in the European Parliament elections for the opposition Les Republicains, said he “could not understand the hurry” to switch off the support and called on President Emmanuel Macron to intervene.

He said that there were 1,500 patients in a similar position to Vincent Lambert in France. The parents had also asked Macron to intervene to stop what they called a “crime of the state”.

But Nathalie Loiseau, who is standing for Macron’s party in the elections, said the head of state could not reverse a court order.

“All he (Macron) can do is pardon someone who has been condemned and this is very different to what the parents of Vincent Lambert are requesting,” she said, acknowledging that the parents were going though a “tragedy”.

This is an AFP article.