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Doctors end life support for French quadriplegic Vincent Lambert in landmark right-to-die case

French doctors have begun taking a quadriplegic man off life support after his ordeal ignited a right-to-die debate within the country for much of the decade, the BBC reports. Vincent Lambert, 42, has spent the last 11 years in a vegetative state since suffering severe brain damage from a 2008 motorcycle accident. 

According to the BBC, doctors at the Sebastopol Hospital in the northern French city of Reims said the action on Monday followed a final judicial ruling to end the food and water he receives. Family members confirmed to BBC that the nutrition and hydration systems were being switched off.

The debate over the continuation of Lambert's life has pitted his parents against his doctors and and his wife. The case reached as high as the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), who upheld France's highest court's 2015 ruling that favored ending his life support. 

Even the United Nations has gotten involved. BBC reports the UN's Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had called on France to intervene and delay the move to withdraw the life support while they investigate his case further, but France's ministry of health said it is not bound by that committee.

Viviane Lambert, the mother of French quadriplegic Vincent Lambert, who has been in a deep vegetative state for more than a decade arrives at the Sebastopol Hospital in Reims
Viviane Lambert, the mother of French quadriplegic Vincent Lambert, who has been in a vegetative state for more than a decade, arrives at the Sebastopol Hospital in Reims, France May 20, 2019. BENOIT TESSIER / REUTERS

Lambert's parents have taken extraordinary steps to keep him alive in his vegetative state. On Monday, they tried to have the doctor caring for their son removed before he halts life-sustaining treatment the same day, their lawyers said. The parents also sought to have the doctor, Vincent Sanchez, criminally prosecuted and lodge new appeals to continue care for Lambert, the lawyers added.

The flurry of legal action spoke to the desperation of the parents just ahead of the planned halt Monday of the nutrition and hydration Lambert receives in the Sebastopol Hospital in the northern French city of Reims.

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Italian members of the support committee of French quadriplegic Vincent Lambert, hold a banner reading "#I'm Vincent Lambert" as they protest in front of the Italian Parliament in Rome on May 20, 2019. Andreas Solaro / AFP/Getty Images

They have already pleaded with President Emmanuel Macron to step in and override the court order. But the case has torn their family apart, pitting them legally and emotionally against other relatives who concur with doctors that the humane path given Lambert's condition is to end life support.

In 2014, the doctors, backed by Lambert's wife Rachel, five of his siblings and his nephew Francois, decided to stop his nutrition and hydration in line with France's passive euthenasia law. According to Reuters, euthanasia is illegal in France, but in 2016 a law was introduced giving terminally ill patients the right to be put into continuous deep sedation (CDS) by doctors until death. 

His parents, devout Catholics, and his half-brother and sister obtained a court order to block the move on grounds his condition might improve with better treatment. Reuters reports Lambert has almost no consciousness but can breathe without a respirator and occasionally moves his eyes.