A man whose case has been central to the right-to-die debate in France for over a decade is set to have his treatment stopped this week.
Vincent Lambert, 42, has been in a vegetative state since a motorcycle accident in 2008.
His family have been fiercely divided over his care – his wife wants his feeding tubes withdrawn and his parents insist his life should continue.
The case went as far as the European Court of Human Rights.
Europe’s top court upheld the decision of a French court to allow him to be taken off life support. However, doctors then did not carry out the plan – amid security concerns raised by Vincent Lambert’s father, who feared there was a plan to kidnap him.
Now a new medical team have moved forward with withdrawing his care, as further appeals have been dismissed.
The high-profile case has proved extremely divisive in France, where euthanasia is illegal but doctors are allowed to put terminally patients into deep sedation.
Around 150 supporters of the parents gathered at the hospital in the eastern city of Reims, where Mr Lambert is being treated, after heeding the call of his mother on the “I support Vincent” website.
“Mr President, Vincent Lambert will die without hydration in the week of 20 May if you do nothing and you are the last and only one able to intervene,” read a letter signed by lawyers for members of the family opposed to stopping treatment, Le Figaro reported.
“In France, in 2019, no one should die of hunger and thirst,” she wrote.
The parents’ lawyers also announced that the couple will file three new appeals on Monday.
Why did the case go to court?
Mr Lambert is a former psychiatric nurse who has been in a tetraplegic state of paralysis, with minimal consciousness, since his accident.
He has been kept alive with the use of intravenous food and water at a hospital in Reims in north-eastern France. He can breathe without artificial aid and occasionally opens his eyes.
After several years of trying to improve his condition, Mr Lambert’s medical team recommended in 2013 that care should stop, in consultation with his wife Rachel.
Because the rest of his family were not consulted, the decision was challenged and the lengthy legal battle over his care began.
His wife, six of his siblings and his nephew favour artificial life-support being ended – but his devoutly Roman Catholic parents, Pierre and Viviane, and two other siblings have remained adamant it should continue.
At the height of the row, in 2015, Mr Lambert’s parents released a video of him which they said showed him reacting to family members via a conservative Catholic website on YouTube.
Doctors involved in his care complained that the video was misleading about his condition and manipulative to the wider public.
What will happen this week?
The legal battle has continued in the courts ever since the cessation was not carried out in 2015.
After other avenues were exhausted, another appeal by his parents to the ECHR was dismissed earlier this year.
His doctor, Vincent Sanchez, has now confirmed that withdrawal is imminent.
On 10 May he informed the Lambert family that his care team intended to stop feeding, hydrating and sedating Mr Lambert during the week starting Monday 20 May.
The UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) has called on France to intervene and delay the move while they investigate his case further.
However, France’s ministry of health has said they are not bound by the committee.
“All legal appeals have been exhausted and all judicial bodies, both national and European, confirm that the medical team in charge of his case has the right to withhold care,” said Agnès Buzyn.
Vincent Lambert’s parents made an appeal to France’s defender of rights to intervene but the commissioner said it was not a matter he could resolve.