A row has broken out over the controversial question of who should take responsibility for a comatose man after doctors refused to decide on ending life support, saying they feared for their safety.

According to the parents of Vincent Lambert, 38, left a quadriplegic with severe brain damage after a 2008 motorbike accident. his doctors fear a plot to kidnap him from the hospital in Reims where he is being kept alive by intravenous feeding.

Mr Lambert’s father Pierre refused to go into details about the alleged plot after a meeting with doctors on Thursday as anti-euthanasia campaigners demonstrated outside the hospital.

Pro-life activists called for Mr Lambert to be abducted from hospital in an online blog after a European court decision last month that his life support could be ended. They also advocated kidnapping members of his medical team.

His doctors are known to believe there is no point keeping him alive in a vegetative state, but they referred the issue to the health ministry on Thursday, and asked public prosecutors to look at the case.

According to Mr Lambert’s nephew François, they also asked prosecutors “to place Vincent under general protection and designate a guardian who could legally represent him.”

In a meeting with his relatives, they “indicated that the decision to stop treatment could not be taken medically due to the threats and pressures they are under that prevent them from working peacefully,” he said.

François Lambert, who is in favour of allowing Vincent to die, said the failure to take a decision showed ”that intimidation works, that threats work.’

Under French law, his wife Rachel, a psychiatric nurse as Vincent himself was, can make the decision. She wants to allow him to die, saying it would be his wish. But his parents, who are conservative Catholics, have opposed all moves to end life support.

The hospital issued a statement saying: “The conditions of calm and security necessary to continue this procedure are not in place, neither for Vincent Lambert nor his medical team.”

His parents are demanding that he be brought to their home where they say they will look after him.

They appealed to the European Court of human Rights after doctors said they wanted to let him die. The court ruled last month that he could be taken off life support.

The case has ignited a heated and emotional debate over euthanasia, which is illegal in France although MPs voted in March to allow doctors to place terminally ill patients in a deep sleep until they die.

The conservative daily Le Figaro summed up the mood in France in a front-page headline on Friday that read “Decision Impossible”.

“There is a sense that no one at this stage dares in all conscience be like a Roman Empero at an amphitheatre and raise or lower their finger to decide on the life or death of a man,” the paper said in an editorial.

The row over Vincent Lambert is similar to a legal fight over Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who suffered brain damage in 1990 and was left in a vegetative state. Eventually her husband won a protracted court case to have her feeding tube removed and she died in 2005.

Tags: ,