Paralysed Frenchman at centre of 11-year legal battle dies after life support withdrawn

Vincent Lambert, a severely brain-damaged French patient at the heart of a right-to-die case, died on Thursday morning more than a week after doctors took him off life support, his family told AFP.

Paralysed Frenchman at centre of 11-year legal battle dies after life support withdrawn
Vincent Lambert in hospital. Photo: AFP

“Vincent died at 8:24 this morning,” his nephew Francois Lambert told AFP. 

Lambert was involved in a near-fatal car crash in 2008 that left him a quadriplegic with severe brain damage which doctors had long said was irreversible.   

Since then he has been the subject of a legal battle between his deeply-Catholic parents and two of his eight siblings – who fought to keep him alive – and his wife, his doctors, six other brothers and sisters and a nephew who argued that allowing him to die was the more humane option. 

READ ALSO: The story of Vincent lambert, the man at the centre of France's bitter right-to-die case

The legal battle raged for many years and involved the French court system, the European court and even the UN, but finally last week after all appeals were exhausted doctors at a hospital in the northern city of Reims took him off life support.

The case rekindled a charged debate over France's right-to-die laws, which allow so-called “passive” euthanasia for severely ill or injured patients who are being kept alive artificially with no chance of recovery. 

In May, even Pope Francis got involved, tweeting that it was necessary to “always safeguard life, God's gift, from its beginning until its natural end”.

Lambert's wife Rachel, who is his legal guardian under French law, had said her husband made clear even before his accident that he would not want to be kept alive artificially, though this was never put in writing.

Multiple medical assessments ordered by the courts over the years found that the former psychiatric nurse, who became a father shortly before his accident, had no chance of recovering.

But his parents, devout Catholics who between them have nine children, had over the years successfully challenged five different attempts by doctors to halt his life-support.

The last time they tried to do so was in May, but it was quickly overturned by a Paris appeals court.

That ruling was then taken to France's top appeals court, the Cour de Cassation, which on June 28 said doctors could legally end his life support in what was hailed as a definitive final judgement by lawyers for his wife. 

With their efforts spurned by the highest courts in France as well as by the European Court of Human Rights, Lambert's parents have threatened to file charges of “murder” when their son dies. 

On July 1, his mother Viviane turned to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in a last-ditch plea for help. 

“Without your intervention, my son, Vincent Lambert, will be euthanised because of his mental handicap,” she said. 

“He is in a state of minimal consciousness but he is not a vegetable.”

But by Monday, the couple had accepted that the death of their son was now “unavoidable”.

“We have nowhere else to turn and now it's too late. Vincent is dying,” they said in a statement through their lawyers sent to AFP, saying that his condition was now “medically irreversible”. 

In early May, the UN committee on disabled rights also asked France to keep Lambert alive while it conducted its own investigation into his fate, but the government said it was not legally bound to abide by its request. 

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Swiss parliament approves same-sex marriage

Switzerland's parliament approved a bill Friday allowing same-sex couples to marry, finally bringing the small Alpine nation into line with much of Europe on gay rights.

Swiss parliament approves same-sex marriage
Swiss MPs approved a bill legalising gay marriage. Photo by AFP

But the Swiss themselves will have the final say on the matter as theChristian, ultra-conservative Federal Democratic Union party has announced that it will ask for the legislation to be put to a referendum.

Switzerland is one of few European countries where same-sex marriage is not legal. 

The country allows same-sex couples to enter into “registered partnerships”, but this does not provide the same rights as marriage, including for obtaining citizenship and the joint adoption of children.

The two chambers of parliament have now approved the bill after multiple rounds of debate since 2013.
The wording of the bill allows gays and lesbians to marry and for lesbians to access sperm donations.

READ MORE: Swiss Protestant church supports gay marriage

“This is a historic victory for the rights of the LGBTI* Community,” Amnesty Switzerland wrote in a tweet.

The Rainbow Families association, set up in 2010 to defend the interests of gay parents in Switzerland, said it was preparing for the issue to be put to a popular vote.

“If the opponents launch a referendum, we're ready,” said Matthias Erhardt, deputy president of the national committee especially set up on “marriage for all”.

“We have 82 percent of the population behind us and, thanks to the mobilisation of the LBGT community, our partner organisations and the political parties who support us, we will be able to further increase acceptance of LGBT people in society,” he said.