Vincent Lambert, Frenchman at Center of Right-to-Die Case, Dies at 42

 nytimes.com  07/11/2019 08:05:51  2  Aurelien Breeden
ImageA neurologist and adviser to Vincent Lamberts parents showing the patients picture in a vegetative state at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.
A neurologist and adviser to Vincent Lamberts parents showing the patients picture in a vegetative state at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.CreditCreditFabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse  Getty Images

PARIS  Vincent Lambert, a former nurse who had been in a vegetative state for over a decade, died on Thursday 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.

Mr. Lamberts death was confirmed by Jean Paillot, a lawyer for his parents. Doctors had stopped artificially feeding and hydrating Mr. Lambert this month after a final court ruling in his case, and placed him under heavy sedation.

Mr. Lambert 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.

It is a real relief for us, said Fran�ois Lambert, Vincent Lamberts nephew, who for years advocated switching off his uncles life support. Vincent had been the victim of irrational medicine for years. It had to stop.

ImageViviane Lambert, Mr. Lamberts mother, had brought his case to the United Nations in hopes of putting pressure on France to keep his life support on.
Viviane Lambert, Mr. Lamberts mother, had brought his case to the United Nations in hopes of putting pressure on France to keep his life support on.CreditFabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse  Getty Images

Mr. Lamberts parents have not commented on their sons death, but their lawyer, Mr. Paillot, said it was a deadly day for our country.

Vincent Lambert was killed by his own doctor because he was disabled, Mr. Paillot said.

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.

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.

But Rachel Lambert, who was made Mr. Lamberts legal guardian in 2016, pointed to multiple medical assessments that found her husband to be in an irreversible vegetative state, and to court rulings that said artificially feeding and hydrating him to keep him alive constituted unreasonable obstinacy as defined by French law.

A vegetative state can be defined as a condition that occurs when the part of the brain that controls thought and behavior no longer works, but vital functions such as the sleep cycle, body temperature control and breathing persist.

His wife, Rachel Lambert, center, said he had clearly stated that he would not wish to live in a vegetative state.CreditPatrick Hertzog/Agence France-Presse  Getty Images

People in a vegetative state can sometimes open their eyes and have basic reflexes, but they do not have a meaningful response to stimulation or display signs of experiencing emotions.

In an interview with the BFM TV news channel this month about her husbands case, Ms. Lambert said that she wanted to finally see him a free man, and expressed discomfort with the attention his case had drawn.

Its a medical decision, which should stay within the private life of our family, Ms. Lambert said. Vincent should not be a standard-bearer, in one way or another. He should just be seen as a unique person.

But Viviane Lambert, Mr. Lamberts mother, had brought his case to the United Nations in hopes of putting diplomatic pressure on France to keep his life support on. Mr. Lamberts parents had referred his case to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a United Nations-affiliated body.

Without your intercession, my son, Vincent Lambert, will be euthanized by a doctor because of his cerebral disability, she said this month in Geneva before the United Nations Human Rights Council. He is in a state of minimal consciousness, but he is not a vegetable.

Mr. Lamberts life support was initially withdrawn in May, but the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had asked the French authorities to stay any decision, and a surprise court ruling in favor of Mr. Lamberts parents bolstered that request. A higher court later struck that ruling down, and agreed with the French state that the Committees request was not legally binding.

Follow Aurelien Breeden on Twitter: @aurelienbrd.

Constant M�heut contributed reporting.

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