Death with dignityWe now have four specific rules for removing life-support equipment, following a decision by the lower court that acknowledges the right of terminally ill patients to end their lives with dignity.
Medical practitioners believe the new standards will reduce confusion surrounding the issue of whether or not to allow what some people call mercy killings.
Nevertheless, it’s also inevitable there will be some gray areas when these rules are applied for real in hospitals.
For instance, the rule that a “patient must have entered the stage in which there is no possibility of recovery” leaves a lot of room for debate. In Korea, heart failure is classified as death, but in the case of brain death, a person is declared dead only after he or she has agreed to donate his or her organs.
The recent case of a woman who was in a vegetative state and had been close to brain death has blurred the issue because there was still a faint possibility she might recover.
In addition, the rule that a patient “should have formed a serious intention about stopping treatment” needs to be defined more clearly.
In the recent case of a woman in a vegetative state, her wish to die was based on a request to her family before she fell into a coma that she didn’t want to prolong her life unnecessarily.
In order to prevent confusion, a system needs to be introduced in which the patient must give consent in written form to be resuscitated, or designate a third person as a representative in case of an emergency.
The court’s decision, which also stresses the need for legal measures for punishment to should be meted out if the death with dignity law is abused, is timely.
A bill is in motion in the National Assembly that is very much in line with recent court rulings, and many feel this is a good move since we cannot rely on courts deciding case by case.
But before we go into any legislative measures, we need to engage in a process in which opinions from different organizations are taken into consideration and the best solution is sought.
We should examine proposals to appoint a government-run committee to oversee decisions made initially by hospital committees.
As medical technology improves and the population ages, more people will probably request death with dignity.
It’s time for the government and the National Assembly to build on what the court has decided so far.