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High Court issues guidelines for the unplugging of an artificial respirator

Feb 11,2009
Upholding a lower court decision, the Seoul High Court yesterday ruled that doctors should unplug an artificial respirator that has been keeping a 76-year-old woman breathing since she fell into a coma last year.

After their mother went into a vegetative state, her children asked the court for permission to stop the treatment keeping her alive. They said their mother would not have wanted to go on living this way.

In the country’s first-ever such decision, the Seoul Western District Court ruled in November that the woman would have wanted her medical treatment stopped. Severance Hospital, which is treating the patient, appealed.

In yesterday’s ruling, the Seoul High Court largely quoted the initial verdict by the Seoul Western District Court that the life support system should be unplugged based on the patient’s presumed desire, but also provided four specific standards for removing an artificial respirator.

A patient must have no possibility of recovery, and should have formed a serious intention of stopping treatment, the court said. The treatment to be stopped must be linked to maintaining the patient’s current state, and doctors are not allowed to stop any pain-reducing or other medical treatment, the court said. The court also made clear that only a doctor may unplug the artificial respirator.

The court said the patient fits all four standards, noting the presumed intention of the patient to stop the treatment. Three years ago, she made a decision to refuse a tracheotomy on her husband, who had a heart condition, to lengthen his life by three days. The court said her will can be presumed from that case.

The court chose not to use the expression “voluntary euthanasia” in its ruling because it is questionable that this case fits the term.


By Ser Myo-ja Staff Reporter/ Park Sung-woo JoongAng Ilbo [myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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