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French quadriplegic at center of life support battle dies

STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - A French quadriplegic in a vegetative state involved in a decade-long legal battle to maintain his life support died on Thursday after doctors ended treatment.

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On July 2, medics switched off the feeding and hydration systems that had kept Vincent Lambert alive since a motorcycle accident in 2008.

He died at 8:25 a.m. (0625 GMT), Lambert’s nephew Francois told reporters. “Now I hope he can rest in peace.”

The fate of the 42-year-old former psychiatric nurse tore apart his family and sparked fierce nationwide debate over the right to die in a country where euthanasia is illegal.

A lawyer for Lambert’s parents, who fought for their son to be kept alive, said a “state crime” had been committed after France’s highest court ruled care could be terminated.

French media reported Lambert’s parents were to sue the medical team involved.

While euthanasia is outlawed in France, doctors may put terminally ill patients into deep sedation until death.

France’s Cour de Cassation on June 28 overruled an appeals court which a month earlier had ordered doctors to keep Lambert alive.

Lambert’s condition pitched his wife, some of his siblings and his nephews, against his staunchly Catholic parents and other relatives. The parents argued their son was not terminally ill and that ending life support was tantamount to euthanasia.

Lambert had almost no consciousness but could breathe without a respirator and occasionally moved his eyes at the hospital in Reims in northeastern France.

“Vincent was in a vegetative state, he wouldn’t want to live that way. In respect for him, it was not right to keep him alive in these conditions,” his nephew Francois added.

Reporting by Gilbert Reilhac and Leigh Thomas; Writing by Inti Landauro; Editing by Richard Lough, Kevin Liffey and Andrew Cawthorne