But Mr. Lambert’s wife, who was made his legal guardian in 2016, says that he had clearly stated that he did not want to live that way. Ms. Lambert and her supporters point to multiple medical assessments that found her husband to be in an irreversible vegetative state, and to court rulings that said that artificially feeding and hydrating him to keep him alive constituted “unreasonable obstinacy” as defined by French law.
“To see him leave is to see him as a free man,” Ms. Lambert told RTL radio on Monday.
French doctors are also divided about the case. The French Society for Palliative Care said in a statement on Monday that Mr. Lambert was in “a situation of artificial prolongation of life, as a result of medical action,” and that taking him off life support was justified.
Others disagreed. In a joint opinion column published on Monday in the newspaper Le Monde, dozens of French medical professionals said that Mr. Lambert’s condition had been stable for years and that gauging his state of consciousness was too complex to reach an undoubtable conclusion.
“To decide in the place of people who cannot express themselves, to judge that their life is not dignified or ‘has no meaning,’ is neither ethical nor scientifically justifiable,” they wrote.
Dr. Régis Aubry, the head of palliative care at the Besançon hospital and a member of a governmental advisory body on bioethics issues, said there were about 1,500 to 1,700 people in France in a state similar to Mr. Lambert’s, but that requests to cease artificial hydration and nutrition were rare, and that in a majority of cases families and doctors came to an agreement on end-of-life decisions.
What made Mr. Lambert’s case stand out, he said, was the level of disagreement between family members, and the intense media scrutiny that followed.
“Modesty should be paramount when handling these questions,” he said, noting that much is still unknown about the consciousness of vegetative patients, and that legislation could never cover each and every individual case. “Only a discussion between respectful people can lead to the answer that is less bad.”