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

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.

His 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 since suffering severe brain damage in a road accident in 2008. He had not left written instructions on 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. His parents argued that ending his life support amounted to the murder of a disabled person. Siblings and other family members took different sides in the dispute.

“It is a real relief for us,” said François Lambert, Vincent Lambert’s nephew, who for years advocated switching off his uncle’s life support. “Vincent had been the victim of irrational medicine for years. It had to stop.”

Mr. Lambert’s parents have not commented on their son’s 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. Lambert’s case, doctors may stop treatment in consultation with family members.

Mr. Lambert’s 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. Catholic doctrine forbids euthanasia.

But Rachel Lambert, who was made Mr. Lambert’s 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 like the sleep cycle, body temperature control and breathing persist.

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