French man in vegetative state for decade has feeding tube removed, set to die after 6-year battle

Unsplash/Daan Stevens

A French man who has been in a vegetative state for over 10 years after a car accident is currently being legally starved to death, despite objections from his family and pro-life advocates.

His impending death comes after a drawn-out legal battle.

Vincent Lambert, a 42-year-old former nurse and quadriplegic, has now gone without any food or water since Sunday; Lambert's family was informed last Tuesday that this would occur, reports say. In 2008, a car crash left Lambert paralyzed and with severe brain damage, a condition doctors said was irreversible.

An appeals court decision that ruled that Lambert must be kept alive pending a review by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was overruled by France's highest court on June 28.

Attorneys for Lambert's parents, who are devout Catholics and have pushed for him to be kept alive, have pressed "murder" charges over the decision to discontinue vital treatments. His wife, meanwhile, believes he should have the right to die, arguing that he would not have wanted to live this way.

The case has reignited the debate over end-of-life care in the European nation. Euthanasia is presently banned in France but a law was introduced in 2016 that grants terminally ill patients the right to be put into a coma, involving the administration of heavy sedatives to ease any suffering, until the patient dies.

“It has taken more than 10 years to rule on the case of a man in a vegetative state who always said he wouldn’t want to end up this way,” said Philippe Lohéac, who heads of the French association for the right to die in dignity (ADMD), bemoaning that the current legal structure "leaves the door open to endless appeals by religious extremists.”

The European Court of Human Rights approved the removal of Lambert’s life support in 2015, arguing in a 12-5 ruling that the choice to cease his intravenous feeding was not a violation of European rights laws.

Pro-life advocates around the world are blasting the decision.

"Food & water are basic necessities — NOT 'life support.' We don’t even treat animals this way," tweeted Lila Rose Tuesday, founder and president of the pro-life investigative group Live Action, calling the situation "horrific."

A CitizenGo petition that was launched in late May asking French President Emmanuel Macron to protect Lambert's life has garnered over 136,000 signatures as of Wednesday.

The Catholic archbishop of Paris Michael Aupetit is asking priests in his archdiocese to offer masses with a special intention for Lambert.

"Dear brothers,” Aupetit wrote Tuesday, “it is now the time for contemplation, for compassion, and for prayer for Mr. Vincent Lambert. Either today or tomorrow I suggest that you celebrate Mass for his intention and entrusting him to the Lord, the God of mercy. This intention can also be extended to all of his relatives.”

Lambert's parents and family members released a statement Monday thanking those who have fought to save his life, lamenting the outcome.

"This time, it is finished. These last days, our lawyers have continued their legal action and carried out ultimate actions to ensure that the suspensive appeal benefiting Vincent at the UN be respected. To no avail," they wrote.

"Death is now inevitable. It was imposed on him as well as on us. While we do not accept it, we can only resign ourselves, in sorrow and with incomprehension, but also in Hope."

The entire process has lasted for more than six years and racked up 34 legal decisions.

Lambert's two lawyers began their fight to save his life in April 2013 when they successfully forced Reims University Hospital, where he was staying, to feed and hydrate him after he had gone without food for 31 days and only 500 milliliters of water each day. 

Lambert's ordeal is being compared to the American case of Terry Schiavo, who died after intravenous feeding was removed in 2005 following a long dispute.

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