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Top French court authorises ending life of quadriplegic

A top French court gave the green light to ending life support for a patient in a vegetative state, in a closely watched ruling that went against his parents' wishes that he be kept alive.

PARIS: A top French court gave the green light on Tuesday to ending life support for a patient in a vegetative state, in a closely watched ruling that went against his parents' wishes that he be kept alive.

The case of Vincent Lambert, who has been a quadriplegic since a road accident in 2008, has torn his family apart at a time of intense debate in France over euthanasia and the high-profile trial of a doctor accused of poisoning seven terminally ill patients.

Doctors treating the 38-year-old in the northeastern city of Reims, as well as his wife, nephew and six of his eight siblings want to cut off intravenous food and water supplies.

But his deeply religious Catholic parents, one brother and one sister oppose the decision and have now taken the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

The Strasbourg-based court has the power to temporarily stop doctors from cutting life support pending a full review of the case. It could issue that order as early as Tuesday or Wednesday.

Jean-Marc Sauve, vice president of the State Council, noted that Lambert had stated before his accident that he would not want to be kept alive artificially.

The council "underscored that the most serious medical condition, including the irreversible loss of all consciousness, can never be enough to justify stopping treatment," he said.

But it said that "special attention should be given to the patient's will."

When doctors decided to cut life support, Lambert's parents took the case to a court near Reims, which ruled against ending his life earlier this year, prompting the case to be brought to the State Council on appeal.

The move to take him off life support is allowed in France, where passive euthanasia - the act of withholding or withdrawing treatment that is necessary to maintain life - was legalised in 2005.

The State Council's decision mirrors conclusions reached on Friday by the court's public rapporteur Remi Keller, a magistrate responsible for examining the case.

He recommended ending Lambert's life, saying there was no hope of recovery.

"The food and hydration being provided to Vincent Lambert are having no other effect than to keep him artificially in his current state," Keller said.

Lambert's wife Rachel told Europe 1 radio earlier on Tuesday that she wanted the council to follow his conclusions, so that "we let Vincent go peacefully, with dignity."

Jean Leonetti, a doctor and lawmaker who penned the law that legalised passive euthanasia, welcomed the State Council's decision.

"This decision is not the validation of an act of euthanasia, but rather the refusal of prolonging life by relentless treatment," he said in a statement.

But he warned that the decision could not be "generalised" to all those in similar situations, as "each situation must be assessed on a case-by-case basis."

The trial of mercy-killing doctor Nicolas Bonnemaison is meanwhile due to close this week.

On Tuesday prosecutors called for a five-year, potentially suspended, prison sentence for the emergency room doctor.

They acknowledged that his intentions were good but said he had nonetheless broken the law.

Bonnemaison has defended his acts on the grounds that the patients he poisoned were suffering terribly.

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