Death with dignity

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Death with dignity

A court ruling accepted a person’s right to die with dignity for the first time in Korea. The Seoul Western District Court yesterday approved a request that the family of Kim, a 75-year-old brain-dead woman, made to the hospital to remove a respirator from the patient.

The court said that treatment without any possibility of recovery was meaningless and ordered that the respirator should be removed. The ruling was based on Article 10 of the Constitution about an individual’s right to pursue happiness and maintain dignity. It was judged that admitting a person’s right to die in peace and with dignity as well as the right to live happily is in accordance with the Constitution.

This ruling is in the right direction as the court interpreted the law more actively and progressively in an attempt to narrow the discrepancy between reality and the law. Before this case, euthanasia was regarded as murder in law and therefore countless patients like Kim suffered unnecessary life-extending treatment, regardless of their intention or wish.

Passive euthanasia based on medical judgment must be acknowledged. Continuing life-extending treatment on patients without any possibility of recovery causes not only patients but also their families to suffer financially and emotionally.

Many advanced countries acknowledge passive euthanasia. In the United States, 40 states accept passive euthanasia. Japan has also accepted passive euthanasia since the Yokohama District Court allowed it in 1955.

The Netherlands accepts even active euthanasia. In 2000, the European country passed a law that gives terminally ill patients the right to choose death with dignity. The Vatican, which strictly respects life, adopted a declaration on euthanasia in 1980. It maintains that in some cases giving up life can be more ethical than an obsessive act of delaying death.

Now it is time for our society to openly discuss euthanasia. According to a survey conducted by the National Cancer Center, seven out of 10 Koreans approve of passive euthanasia, but it is nonetheless regarded as a taboo subject to talk about openly.

It is necessary for all participants in society to discuss standards and procedures for passive euthanasia. After the current ruling, families of patients in similar circumstances will likely file suits, and it is difficult to depend solely on lawsuits when deciding whether or not to carry out passive euthanasia. As in advanced countries, we should introduce a system whereby people can make their own decisions beforehand so that they can have passive euthanasia without involving the courts. It is similar to people promising to donate their organs to hospitals and not having to seek additional approval prior to a transplant.

However, active euthanasia, that is to end life by, for instance, injecting or taking lethal drugs in order to stop pain, must not be accepted at all. It is apparently an act of murder and those who assist a patient’s suicide must be punished.

It is important to establish a monitoring system to prevent passive euthanasia from being misused. Our traditional values of filial piety and cooperation are rapidly disappearing and people are becoming increasingly selfish.

Elderly citizens or poor people must not be stripped of the chance for medical treatment in the name of passive euthanasia.
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