[EDITORIALS]When a life may be ended

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[EDITORIALS]When a life may be ended

Terri Schiavo, a 41-year-old American woman who suffered brain damage following heart failure 15 years ago, died 13 days after a court allowed her feeding tube to be removed.
There are about 1,000 similar cases taking place in the United States every day, but Ms. Schiavo’s death became an international issue, not only because of the conflict between her parents and husband, but also because of the dispute among members of Congress and the judiciary, as well as the confrontation between conservatives and progressives.
What would have happened if a similar case had taken place here? The debate over euthanasia comes from the conflict between those supporting the right to die with dignity and others who maintain that no one should end a life.
Under Korean law, any act of artificially shortening a life is punishable, and thus euthanasia is forbidden.
The Supreme Court had ruled that two doctors at Seoul’s Boramae Hospital were guilty of aiding a murder after they allowed a patient dependent on a respirator to leave the hospital at the family’s request.
Is that our reality? There are a significant number of cases in which hopelessly ill patients were dismissed from hospitals at their families’ request. And sometimes, patients were removed from medical care against their doctors’ advice.
In a recent poll, 70 percent of the respondents said doctors should accept families’ requests to stop medical treatment for hopelessly ill patients, thereby supporting “passive euthanasia.”
Four years ago, the Korean Medical Association issued an ethics guideline that recognized passive euthanasia. Controversy arose back then, but no conclusions were drawn at the time.
Under all circumstances, life is invaluable, but it is time for us to think about whether it is right to extend a hopeless, unconscious life artificially.
“Active” euthanasia of killing patients with medication under their consent must not be accepted, but it is necessary to draw a social consensus on allowing passive euthanasia, at least.
In that case, society must be extremely careful not to create a trend of treating life lightly; passive euthanasia must be permitted under strict regulation to prevent abuse.
No longer should families of hopelessly ill patients and doctors become criminals due to the disparity between the law and reality.
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