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[EDITORIALS]Let Ethics Govern Life or Death

Apr 27,2001
Debate on ethical issues continues to heat up as the Korea Medical Association has decided to establish an ethical guideline for doctors, which goes against the current law on abortion, brain death, surrogacy and passive euthanasia. The debate is expected to continue, spurred by the Ministry of Health and Welfare's request to delete the related provisions in the guideline and its threat to punish doctors if they violate the law.

In the guideline, the association, in fact, approves abortion. It also acknowledges brain death as death along with heart failure. Under current law, brain death is recognized only when the patient's organs are to be transplanted. In addition, the guideline allows doctors to provide in vitro fertilization to surrogate mothers only if the surrogate is to receive no financial remuneration. It also says that doctors may acquiesce to requests made in writing, demanding a discharge from the hospital or a halt to medical treatment by family members or patients who have no prospects for recovery.

The current law on the health of mother and child allows abortions only when pregnancy is physically dangerous to the mother or where pregnancy was through incest or rape. Since there are no particular articles on euthanasia in current laws, doctors can be punished on charges of murder if they are party to a death by this method. Doctors, however, say that abortion should be approved by law since it is done secretly anyway and the law is too unrealistic. However, if the guideline allows abortion, it will occur more often encouraging a tendency of neglect for human life. Moreover, some articles in the guideline are defined very vaguely, blurring the path of responsibility. Because of this, some people doubt doctors are trying to avoid legal responsibilities, using opinion poll results on euthanasia in their support. The public is not happy with the medical community because of such recent illegal activities as false reimbursement requests to the National Health Corporation. Doctors should first try to recover the trust of the people. It is not too late to establish a guideline of ethics after holding public hearings on the issue.



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