PARIS – Just hours after doctors stopped artificially feeding and hydrating a 42-year-old Frenchman who has spent more than a decade in a vegetative state, a French court ruled late Monday night that he must be put back on life support.
It was a stunning twist in the case of the man, Vincent Lambert, a nurse who was left in a vegetative state after a motor vehicle crash in 2008 and whose situation has bitterly divided his family and put him at the center of a right-to-die debate in France.
Earlier Monday, doctors at a hospital in the northeastern city of Reims had stopped artificially feeding and hydrating him and began administering strong doses of sedation.
The decision to remove Lambert from life support was announced this month after a series of rulings, despite staunch opposition from his parents. Lambert's wife, Rachel Lambert, has maintained that her husband had verbally expressed that he did not want to be kept alive in a vegetative state.
While euthanasia is illegal in France, the law allows for what has been called "passive euthanasia," in which terminally ill or injured patients with no chances of recovery are taken off life support and put into heavy sedation until their death, after extensive consultation with their families and medical staff.
Lawyers for Lambert's parents had announced a flurry of legal challenges to reverse the decision to take him off life support, but few expected that they would succeed. One of the challenges, filed with the European Court of Human Rights, was quickly rejected, citing the absence of "new evidence."
But late Monday night, surprising many, another challenge filed with the Paris appeals court succeeded.
The court ruled that France had to delay the decision to halt Lambert's life support pending review of his situation by a United Nations-affiliated body, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, where Lambert's parents had referred his case.
Jean Paillot, a lawyer for Lambert's parents, told reporters in Paris that it was an "extraordinary victory" and that Lambert's artificial feeding and hydration had to resume "without delay."
The dispute has attracted intense attention from the media and from politicians, some of whom had asked President Emmanuel Macron to stop the life support from being removed. Lambert's parents had also asked that he intervene.
But Macron said in a Facebook message on Monday that while he had been "deeply moved" by Lambert's situation, and that there were no "simple or unequivocal" answers to end-of-life questions, it was not his role "to suspend a decision that is up to the assessment of doctors and that is in conformity with our laws."