Vincent Lambert, a former nurse whose case had come to symbolize France’s right-to-die debate, has died.
Lambert, who had been on life support for more than a decade at Sebastopol Hospital in Reims, northeast France, died Thursday at 8:25 local time (12:25 ET), according to Jean Paillot, a lawyer representing his parents.
The 42-year-old had sustained severe brain damage following a car accident in 2008 and had been living in a vegetative state.
Medical experts had determined that his situation was irreversible.
For more than five years, legal battles have raged between his family members over whether he should be kept alive, igniting a watershed debate in the country and drawing in international bodies, the French President and even Pope Francis.
In May, that fight appeared to have finally reached its end, with a judicial ruling that allowed doctors to take Lambert off life support.
That decision, in line with the wishes of his wife and siblings, followed a similar conclusion from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. It prompted doctors to begin the process of “passive” euthanasia, which is legal in France.
Lambert’s wife Rachel told RTL radio at the time that “to see him go is to see him as a freed man.” She said that Lambert told her before his accident that he would not want to be kept alive in a vegetative state.
But a last-ditch effort from Lambert’s devout Catholic parents, who have been campaigning to keep him alive, halted the move hours later. An appeals court ruled in their favor, concluding that support could not be withdrawn until an ongoing report by the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was completed.
French President Emmanuel Macron had rejected calls from the parents for him to issue a presidential decree to keep Lambert on life support.
The Pope also weighed in, tweeting after the initial court decision: “We pray for those who live with severe illness. Let us always safeguard life, God’s gift, from its beginning until its natural end. Let us not give in to a throwaway culture.”
Last month, France’s Court of Cassation overturned the appeal court ruling, allowing doctors to stop feeding Lambert on June 28.
Maître Spinosi, a lawyer representing Lambert’s wife, said that decision marked “the end of the dispute.”
Speaking of Lambert’s passing on Thursday, his nephew François told CNN affiliate BFMTV: “It’s a relief, of course, it’s not sad, it puts things back in order. I hope he rests in peace.”
He added that he hoped that the funeral could remain intimate and that the family can now “get along and get closer,” noting the controversial long-running family legal battle.
“What happened here is a bit of an irreversible break, but it’s not a tragedy.”
In a statement, the Vatican expressed “sorrow” at Lambert’s death, reiterating the Pope’s view that “God is the only patron of life”.