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Pope prays as Frenchman's life support switched off

Pope Francis said he was praying for Frenchman Vincent Lambert, whose doctors have begun turning off his life support (AFP Photo/Vincenzo PINTO )

Vatican City (AFP) - Pope Francis on Monday said "those who live with severe illness" should have life protected until "its natural end", as doctors in France began turning off the life support of a man in a vegetative state.

"We pray for those who live with severe illness," the pope tweeted.

"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 interim director of the Holy See's press office, Alessandro Gisotti, retweeted the pope's words, writing in French that "we pray for Vincent Lambert".

Lambert, 42, suffered severe brain damage from a traffic accident in 2008 and doctors were on Monday beginning to turn off his life support systems, in a hugely controversial case.

His parents, devout Catholics, have repeatedly launched court action to keep him alive, putting them at odds with Lambert's wife and five siblings who believe the most humane course is to let him die.