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French Council of State ruling in Vincent Lambert case

The 17 judges of the French Council of State (France’s highest court) have ruled in the long dragging case of Vincent Lambert: doctors are allowed to arrest the treatment of Vincent Lambert, a man already 6 years in a permanent vegetative coma. This will certainly mean Vincent Lambert will die. The implementation of the verdict has to wait for the considerations by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, where the parents of Vincent have appealed. This ruling from the ECHR – although put high on a priority list –  can take many months, if not a year. It is a complicated case, comparable to the Schiavo case in the USA: parents and wife are opposite each other. The wife saying Vincent would never have accepted such a life, while the parents believe Vincent will finally wake up to a little better life (they see some grimaces, described by the doctors as not conscious). The doctors share the opinion of Vincent’s wife.

From BBC News Europe of 25 June 2014: The European Court of Human Rights says French doctors must keep treating a man who has been in a coma for six years.

Vincent Lambert, 39, was left a tetraplegic after a motorcycle accident. His family is split over whether he should be kept alive. The Council of State, ruled in favour of ending Mr Lambert’s life support.

The case is seen as unprecedented in France, where euthanasia is illegal though doctors can withdraw care. The move by the European Court of Human Rights suspends the French court’s decision. Mr Lambert will be kept alive while the European court considers a full review of the case. The European court has the power to implement urgent, temporary measures “where there is an imminent risk of irreparable harm”. Mr Lambert’s wife and his doctors want to cut off intravenous food and water. But his parents – both said to be devout Roman Catholics – appealed to the European court because they want him to be kept alive.

Doctors in France are entitled to withdraw care from a patient under a 2005 law that says life should not be prolonged “artificially” through “unnecessary or disproportionate treatment”.