Extra! Korea

May 21, 2009

Supreme Court grants terminally ill patient the right to die

Filed under: legal issues — extrakorea @ 12:56 pm

The Korea Herald and Korea Times report that the Supreme Court has granted a terminally ill patient the right to die. Previous actions had made it clear that she would not have wanted to be kept artificially alive if she were in a vegetative state. Her children had previously made requests to remove life support in lower courts, and won. Now the Supreme Court has joined them, but added that only under “limited circumstances” would it grant this right.

The top court ruled in favor of a comatose patient’s family who last year filed a suit requesting the Yonsei Severance Hospital to remove the life support machines.

“A patient may be considered to be in his or her dying phase, when it is circumstantially evident that he or she may end up dying in a very short time,” said Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon in the verdict. “In such cases, the continuance of the painful and insignificant cure may result in violating the patient’s basic human dignity.”

The patient, surnamed Kim, fell comatose last February due to brain damage caused during a medical examination. Her children asked for the removal of life support, claiming that their mother was unwilling to be kept artificially alive.

Upon the hospital’s refusal, they filed a suit and won in both the lower court and appeal court last November and this February respectively.

The patient had refused, years ago, surgery that might have prolonged the life of her deceased husband, and had always made it clear that she too wished a natural death, said both courts in their original rulings.

Edit/Update:

According to this article, DNR (“Do Not Resuscitate”) documents are not legally binding, but this ruling will probably make them more respected by the hospitals, since Yonsei Severance Hospital is so well-respected in Korea. Seoul National University Hospital, another very prestigious hospital, has decided to accept DNR documents from patients suffering from terminal stage cancer.

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