Doctors have switched life support back on for a Frenchman in a vegetative state for over a decade in an extraordinary eleventh-hour courtroom u-turn.
Vincent Lambert, 42, who was left quadriplegic and with irreversible brain damage after a traffic accident in 2008, has been at the heart of a right to die row that has split the patient’s family and France.
It also turned political as candidates for this weekend’s European elections clash over whether he should be kept alive.
Doctors had on Monday started switching off his life support at the Sebastopol Hospital in the northern French city of Reims following what was thought to be a final judicial ruling to halt nutrition and hydration. Without these, he could die "within days”, said medical sources.
But late last night, a Paris appeals court reversed the decision at the request of the patient’s parents, staunch Catholics, pitted against Mr Lambert's wife and five siblings who argue he should be allowed to die.
"We have the pleasure to inform you that... the hydration and feeding of Vincent Lambert has been resumed," said Jean Paillot, the parents’ lawyer.
"It is not a suspension but a new start," added the parents' other lawyer Jerome Triomphe who said the aim now was to have Mr Lambert transferred to a different hospital.
The Paris court ordered authorities "to take all measures" to keep Mr Lambert alive pending a review by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
On Monday, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg had rejected a request by the parents to keep him alive during the review by the UN committee.
The emotive case prompted reaction on Monday from Pope Francis, in favour of keeping Mr Lambert alive. "Let us always safeguard life, God's gift, from its beginning until its natural end. Let us not give in to a throwaway culture," the pontiff said.
President Emmanuel Macron then rejected calls by the parents and political rivals to intervene, saying "the decision to stop treatment was taken after a constant dialogue between his doctors and his wife, who is his legal representative”.
The UN committee on disabled rights this month requested suspending the decision while it conducted its own investigation, which could take years. The French government made it clear there was no legal obligation for it to abide by them but the appeals court ruled otherwise.