Paris [France]: A top court here on late Friday ruled in favour of removing life support from a man who has been in a vegetative state since more than a decade.
The Cour de Cassation, France’s highest judicial court in Paris, struck down a lower court’s ruling that had ordered doctors to continue artificially feeding and hydrating the patient, identified as Vincent Lambert, 42, a nurse who was injured in a car accident in 2008, The New York Times reported.
Lambert did not leave written instructions about his end-of-life wishes, and his family has been bitterly divided over his treatment, after a years-long legal battle in a landmark case on the right to die.
The parents of the victim along with other relatives were quoted as saying that he is not suffering and should be kept alive. His wife, Rachel Lambert, and others say he would not have wanted to live this way and should be taken off life support.
Following Friday’s judgment, a lawyer for Lambert’s wife said that it signalled the “end of this dispute.”
“There are no more legal obstacles that stand in the way of resuming the end of the treatments as of now,” the lawyer, Patrice Spinosi, told reporters in Paris.
However, it is still not clear when Lambert might be taken off life support. A lawyer for Lambert’s parents has also threatened to file a complaint for murder if doctors went ahead with the procedure.
Doctors had declined to take Lambert off life support in 2015 despite a court order allowing it, because they said there was not enough “serenity and security” in the case after hospital staff members had received anonymous threats.
Medical experts define a vegetative state as a condition whereby the part of the brain that controls thought and behaviour are no longer operational, but vital functions such as the sleep cycle, body temperature control and breathing persist. Such patients can sometimes open their eyes and have basic reflexes, but they do not have meaningful responses to stimulation and do not display any sign of experiencing emotions.
Doctors first decided to remove Lambert from life support in 2013, in consultation with his wife, after years of physical therapy and care had failed to improve his condition. But his parents opposed the decision and obtained a court ruling that reversed it.
A legal dispute over the matter continued for years making its way through top French and European courts, including the European Court of Human Rights.
Last month, with the cooperation of Lambert’s wife, who was made his legal guardian in 2016, doctors at a hospital in the northeastern French city of Reims stopped feeding and hydrating him, and began administering strong doses of sedatives to ease any suffering.