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20.05.2019 Europe

5 key dates in the Vincent Lambert euthanasia controversy

By RFI
REUTERS
MAY 20, 2019 EUROPE

The move to end life support for Vincent Lambert – a 42 year old Frenchman who has been in a vegetative state for 10 years – follows a protracted six-year legal battle that has torn his family apart and provoked debate in France over the country's euthanasia laws.

Here's are the key moments leading to Monday's withdrawal of life-sustaining care for Lambert:

1. Early care
Lambert is taken to hospital in the city of Reims following a motorcycle accident in 2008. Three years later, doctors judge Lambert to be in a vegetative state without hope of improvement. In 2013, the hospital begins the process of cutting off life-sustaining intravenous food and water. This, after Lambert's wife and some relatives say the former psychatrist made clear before his accident that he would not want to be kept alive artificially under such circumstances. Lambert's Catholic parents and two siblings challenge the move and a local court rules that life support should continue.

2. Court battle
In January 2014 doctors inform the family they will stop feeding Lambert in line with France's "passive" euthanasia law, which allows doctors to withdraw support for seriously ill or injured patients with no chance of recovery. Five days later a court rules his treatment must continue. Lambert's wife and the hospital appeal to France's supreme administrative court, the State Council, which orders a new medical assessment. After experts determine that Lambert cannot recover and his condition has even worsened, the council rules in June 2014 that he should be allowed to die.

3. Case goes before EU court
Lambert's parents take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which says he must be kept alive as it considers the case. In June 2015 the court backs the State Council's decision. The following month the hospital announces a third plan to start procedures to end life support, however doctors refuse to follow through amid security fears.

4. Attempts to 'manipulate' experts
Doctors announce a fourth bid to withdraw the life support in September 2017. Lambert's parents again appeal to the State Council, but the request is rejected. In April a court asks for another medical opinion, at the request of his parents. But the experts involved withdraw, citing attempts at manipulation. In November 2017, a new assessment concludes that Lambert's chronic vegetative state is irreversible.

5. End of the road
A court near Reims upholds the decision to withdraw life support in January 2019. Lambert's parents unsuccessfully appeal to the State Council and the Europe court. In May 2019, a UN committee on disabled rights asks France to suspend any action while it studies the case. Days later Lambert's doctor says he plans to end life support during the week of May 20. A new court appeal by his parents fails. President Emmanuel Macron does not respond to calls to intervene.

On 20 May, doctors begin withdrawing life support.

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