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Vincent Lambert, man at the center of right-to-die debate in France, dies at 42

Paris—A man who was in a vegetative state for 11 years who was at the center of a bitter dispute that divided his family and French courts, has died. Vincent Lambert, 42, died in a hospital nine days after doctors stopped providing artificial feeding and hydration, ending years of legal flip-flopping over whether to keep him alive. 

Stopping treatment came four days after France's highest court quashed a Paris court decision to resume feeding so the United Nations could examine the case. 

His nephew, Francois Lambert, expressed relief, saying that "it's the rational that takes over."

"We've been ready for years," said the nephew who has emerged as a spokesman for the side of the family, including Lambert's wife, who felt that their loved one should be allowed to die. Lambert's parents, traditionalist Catholics, fought relentlessly to keep their son alive. They argued that Vincent was disabled and wanted him put in a facility that deals with disabilities.

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

A 2008 car crash left Lambert in a vegetative state that required artificial feeding to keep him alive. He died Thursday morning at a hospital in Reims, east of Paris, where he had been treated.

The case has drawn attention around Europe. Even the United Nations has gotten involved. BBC reports the UN's Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had previously 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.

Lambert's parents had taken extraordinary steps to keep him alive in his vegetative state. In May, 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.

Legal battles began in 2013. In the latest twist on June 28, France's highest court gave doctors permission to restart procedures introduced in May to stop feeding and hydrating Lambert. The Court of Cassation quashed a previous decision by a Paris court to resume life support after the parents appealed to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The high court ruled that the Paris court ordering life support to be resumed wasn't competent in the case.

Unbeknownst to him, the man lying in a hospital bed became central to the debate leading up to France's 2016 law on terminally ill patients. The law allows doctors to stop life-sustaining treatments, including artificial hydration and nutrition, and to keep the person sedated until death. It stops short, however, of legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide.