On Thursday the 11th of July, Vincent Lambert died in Reims, France, after an intense family dispute over his fate that led to years of legal battles and put him at the center of right-to-die debates. He was 42.
Lambert was a former nurse who had been in a vegetative state for over a decade. He had been kept alive artificially since suffering severe brain damage in a road accident in 2008, and had not left written instructions about his end-of-life wishes. His wife, Rachel Lambert, said that he had clearly stated that he would not wish to live in a vegetative state, while his parents argued that ending his life support amounted to the murder of a disabled person. Siblings and other family members took differing sides in the dispute.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal in France. But the law allows patients who are terminally ill or injured with no chances of recovery to decide to stop treatments if the measures appear useless, disproportionate or if they seem to have no other effect than artificially maintaining life. If a patient is no longer able to express a decision, as was Mr. Lamberts case, doctors may stop treatment in close consultation with family members. However, Mr. Lamberts parents, observant Roman Catholics who gained the support of anti-euthanasia activists, argued that the law should not apply in this case because their son was not terminally ill and was a disabled person in need of protection.
The legal battle started in 2013, when it turned out that Lamberts health would no longer improve, and his doctors advised him to stop treatment. Vincents wife Rachel agreed, just like his six brothers and sisters. But his parents did not want to know anything about it and started a legal procedure. In May this year the French Court of Appeal decided that Vincent Lambert was not yet allowed to die. However, at the end of June the Court of Cassation annulled the judgment; the Court of Appeal was not been considered competent to pass this judgment. Although no appeal was possible against this decision, Vincents parents did not stop their resistence. They threatened to prosecute the physicians for murder when the treatment would be stopped.