On Wednesday, Europe's human rights court was to weigh whether a man in a vegetative state should be taken off life support in a case that has torn his family apart and ignited a fierce euthanasia debate in France. Vincent Lambert, 38, was severely brain damaged and quadriplegic as a result of a 2008 road accident. For months he has been at the center of a judicial drama over his right to die.
In line with a 2005 passive euthanasia law in France which allows treatment maintaining life to be withheld; in 2014, Lambert's doctors, backed by his wife and six of his eight siblings, decided to stop the intravenous food and water keeping him alive. His 33-year-old wife, Rachel, who is a psychiatric nurse, said, "Keeping him alive artificially, it is unbearable compared to the man he was. We discussed this and he would never have wanted to be kept in this state."
However, Lambert's deeply religious Catholic parents, half-brother and sister won an urgent court application to stop the plan. Their lawyer Jean Palliot said, "Stopping treatment would amount to euthanasia. Vincent Lambert is not at the end of his life and he would improve if he was receiving better care."
In an appeal, the State Council (French supreme administrative court) ordered three doctors to draw up a report on Lambert's condition and in June ruled that the decision to withdraw care from a man with no hope of recovery was lawful. Lambert's parents then took the case to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, which ordered France to keep Lambert alive while they decided whether the State Council's decision was in line with the European Convention on Human Rights, which is expected to take up to two months to deliver its judgement in the case.