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en years after Terri Schi­avo’s plight split her fam­ily and peo­ple in the US, the bat­tle to de­cide Vin­cent Lambert’s fate is do­ing the same to his fam­ily and France.

Lambert (39), a psy­chi­atric nurse, has been in a coma since a mo­tor­cy­cle ac­ci­dent in 2008 left him tetraplegic and se­verely brain dam­aged.

Like Schi­avo’s hus­band, Michael, Lambert’s wife, Rachel, and six of his sib­lings want life sup­port to be with­drawn as his doc­tors be­lieve there is no hope of re­cov­ery.

But Lambert’s de­vout Ro­man Catholic par­ents – like Schi­avo’s par­ents Robert and Mary Schindler – and two of his sib­lings ar­gue that would be mur­der.

Pierre and Vi­viane Lambert in­sist their stricken son has shown signs of progress and be­lieve he just needs bet­ter care.

So, like the Schindlers, Pierre and Vi­viane turned to the courts to en­sure life sup­port was con­tin­ued – ig­nit­ing a fierce de­bate over the right to die in France (as Schi­avo did in the US) where eu­thana­sia is il­le­gal.

Terri Schi­avo died on March 31 2005 after her feed­ing tube was re­moved by order of a Florida judge act­ing at the re­quest of her hus­band. She was 41 and had spent nearly half her life in a veg­e­ta­tive state after suf­fer­ing a car­diac ar­rest aged 26. This caused a se­vere lack of oxy­gen and brain dam­age.

The Schindlers op­posed the re­quest and al­most 10 years of le­gal bick­er­ing en­sued be­fore feed­ing was with­drawn. Like the Schindlers, Lambert’s par­ents are un­likely to be suc­cess­ful.

In a ma­jor set­back on Fri­day and in a land­mark de­ci­sion, the Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights up­held the de­ci­sion of a French court to al­low Lambert to be taken off life sup­port.

The case was taken to the Euro­pean court last year after France’s high­est court had ruled in favour of end­ing his life sup­port.

Lambert is be­ing kept alive with the use of in­tra­venous food and wa­ter at a hospi­tal in Reims in north­east­ern France.

In Jan­uary last year, Lambert’s doc­tors – backed by his wife and six of his eight sib­lings plus a nephew – de­cided to stop the in­tra­venous food and wa­ter keep­ing him alive in line with a 2005 pas­sive eu­thana­sia law in France.

The de­ci­sion was made after Lambert ap­peared to re­sist at­tempts to be fed, sug­gest­ing he wanted to die, re­ported The Tele­graph news­pa­per in Lon­don.

But his par­ents, half-brother and sis­ter won an ur­gent court ap­pli­ca­tion to stop the plan, ar­gu­ing that Lambert was suf­fer­ing from a “hand­i­cap”, not an “in­cur­able brain dis­ease”.

In an ap­peal, the French Supreme Ad­min­is­tra­tive Court, known as the Coun­cil of State, or­dered three doc­tors to draw up a re­port on Lambert’s con­di­tion and in June last year ruled that the de­ci­sion to with­draw care from a man with no hope of re­cov­ery was law­ful, ac­cord­ing to The Tele­graph.

Lambert’s par­ents then took the case to the Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights, which or­dered France to keep Lambert alive while it de­lib­er­ated on whether the coun­cil’s de­ci­sion was in line with the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion on Hu­man Rights. On Fri­day, the court ruled that it was. Re­act­ing to the rul­ing, a tear­ful Rachel Lambert said her hus­band would never have wanted to be kept alive ar­ti­fi­cially and that she wanted to “let him go”.

“My thoughts are very much with my hus­band. There’s no re­lief, no joy to ex­press. We’d just like his will to be done,” she said.

But her dis­traught moth­erin-law vowed not to give up, say­ing: “It’s scan­dalous. They are con­demn­ing my son. We will re­main by Vin­cent’s side and will con­tinue to fight.”

How­ever, the court’s rul­ing is un­likely to be the last word on the is­sue as Terri Schi­avo’s story shows. In the 10 years since her pass­ing, the Schindlers and Michael Schi­avo have con­tin­ued to clash. They dis­agreed over her burial and both par­ties have also been in­volved in ac­tivism over the larger is­sues.

They have also writ­ten books telling their side of the story. As for how it has changed the US, the an­swer is clear. NBC News said on the 10th an­niver­sary of her death this year: “Ten years after Terri Schi­avo, death de­bates still di­vide us.”


LET HIM GO Rachel Lambert, wife of Vin­cent Lambert, a French­man who has been in a coma for seven years, ar­rives with her lawyer, Lau­rent Pet­titi, to lis­ten to a ver­dict about her hus­band in the Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights in Stras­bourg, France


STAY­ING ALIVE Mary Schindler reaches out to her daugh­ter, Terri Schi­avo, in her hospi­tal bed

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