Europe's top human rights court ordered doctors to continue treatment for a man left comatose after a car accident six years ago, overruling a French panel in a highly unusual late-night decision.
Vincent Lambert's family members disagree on whether to keep him alive artificially, and the case has drawn nationwide attention at a time when the French president has said he wants it to be it easier for some people with incurable illnesses to seek medical help to end their lives. France's highest administrative court ruled Tuesday that Lambert had made it clear he did not want to be kept in a vegetative state and said doctors could withhold further treatment.
Relatives of Lambert who want him kept alive successfully appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to intervene Tuesday. The Strasbourg-based court confirmed Wednesday it had suspended the French decision and barred Lambert from being transferred while it decides the case on its merits, a process that could take months under the court's usual schedule.
"He is not sick, he is not at the end of his life, he is not suffering," Jean Paillot, a lawyer for Lambert's parents, told BFM television on Wednesday. "From our perspective, there is no reason to stop feeding or hydrating him."
Euthanasia is currently legal in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. In France, a 2005 law has allowed doctors of terminally ill patients, under certain conditions, to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment.
The debate has been simultaneously revived in France by the trial of a French doctor on poisoning charges, for having given lethal injections to help seven terminally ill patients die. Dr. Nicolas Bonnemaison faces up to life in prison. The verdict is expected Wednesday.
Several relatives of his alleged victims have testified on his behalf, and a petition signed by over 66,000 people calls for his acquittal.
The Lambert case has echoes of the legal fight over Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who suffered brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped, and she entered what doctors refer to as a "persistent vegetative state," or prolonged coma. She died in 2005 after her husband won a protracted court case with Schiavo's parents to have her feeding tube removed.