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Vincent Lambert, Frenchman at heart of controversial right-to-die case, has died

François Nascimbeni, AFP | The Sebastopol hospital in Reims, eastern France, where Vincent Lambert has died.

Vincent Lambert, the severely brain-damaged Frenchman at the heart of a right-to-die case, died Thursday morning, more than a week after life support was ended.

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Lambert, a former nurse who was in a vegetative state for over a decade, died early on Thursday morning, after doctors decided to end life support treatment following a lengthy legal battle.

"Vincent died at 8:24 am (0624 GMT) this morning," his nephew François Lambert told AFP.

Lambert was involved in a near-fatal car crash in 2008 that left him a quadriplegic, with severe brain damage which doctors had long said was irreversible.

His fate was the subject of a long-running legal battle between his deeply Catholic parents, who sought to keep him alive, and his wife, who argued he should have the right to die with dignity.

In the end, his wife Rachel and the medical team at Reims University Hospital prevailed, with doctors taking him off life support on July 2 after France's top court ruled on June 28 that doctors could remove his feeding tubes.

Known as the "Affaire Vincent Lambert", the bitter tussle rekindled a charged debate over France's right-to-die laws, which allow for severely ill or injured patients to be put under sedation – under conditions critics deem too restrictive.

His eight siblings were drawn into the tussle, with six of them backing his wife, and two others supporting his elderly parents in a struggle over passive euthanasia that made headlines around the world.

Dominic Wilkinson, professor of medical ethics at University of Oxford, speaks to FRANCE 24

"He is minimally conscious but he is not a vegetable," his 73-year-old mother Viviane pleaded in a last-ditch appeal on Monday before the UN's top rights body in Geneva.

But for his wife, the fight was about what Lambert himself would want: "Keeping him artificially alive and totally dependent? For him, that would be unacceptable," she has said.

Before the accident, Lambert was a thrill-seeker who loved to party and was once expelled from school, family members told AFP.

"He sometimes went to extremes, but at the same time he was secretive, withdrawn and ill-at-ease," younger sister Marie once said in an interview.

A traditional Catholic upbringing

Lambert was the first child born to Viviane and Pierre Lambert, who each had children from a previous marriage.

When his parents met, his father was a gynaecologist and active anti-abortion campaigner, who had two children before falling for Vivianne, who was his secretary at the time.

She was a mother of three and 16 years his junior.

The pair eventually got married and went on to have four children of their own, with Vincent the sixth out of a total of nine children.

Like the rest of his siblings, Lambert was sent at 12 to a strict Catholic boarding school in southwest France, but was thrown out for insubordination. He went on to finish his studies in the northwestern city of Reims.

"Since then he always distanced himself from our parents' ideology, like most of us," his sister Marie said.

After school, he studied nursing specialising in psychiatry, which took him to various hospitals in the region where he met future wife Rachel, also a nurse. They married in 2007.

But barely 18 months later, while Rachel was heavily pregnant with their daughter, Lambert crashed his car in Chalons-en-Champagne where they were living.

He was rushed to Reims hospital, where he remained until his death, behind a locked door with a camera keeping a close eye on visitors.

Condition deteriorating

Over the years, his family watched as his condition deteriorated, with his muscles wasting away, a grimace etched on his face and the occasional cry.

Although he had been known to smile or shed tears, experts believed it to be the result of "emotional memory" rather than a real-time reaction to events.

His parents had threatened to bring murder charges against the doctor that removed his feeding and hydration tubes.

"Vincent is doing well. He's not at the end of his life," his mother said in May. "He only needs something to drink and to eat and some love."

His 38-year-old wife, who moved to Belgium with her 11-year-old daughter to escape the media attention over the case, has written a book about her experience, entitled: "Parce que je l'aime, je veux le laisser partir" (Because I love him, I want to let him go).

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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