Dying with dignity
Even the last moment of Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan’s life was beautiful.
He had prepared for his death. Cardinal Kim pledged to donate his organs as early as 1990, as part of his desire to give everything.
Until the last minute, he repeatedly asked his doctors not to use medical devices to meaninglessly prolong his life, wishing to die with dignity. The doctors respected Kim’s wishes, and he was able to pass away peacefully.
After he died, his eyes were removed through surgery. He is gone now, but two people who each received one of his eyes will be able to see through his corneas.
The beautiful ending to Cardinal Kim’s life reminds us of the importance of dying well. Unfortunately, many people face death without much preparation and end their lives in ways that go against what they would have wanted. This is why we need to foster a system in which people can die with dignity.
The decision on the use of cardiopulmonary resuscitation and artificial respiration needs to be made according to the will of the patient. Doctors and families should also respect the wishes of the dying.
Otherwise, with continuing advances in medical technology, even patients with little hope of recovery have to painfully depend on machines until they die.
Even though Cardinal Kim expressed his objection to the use of life extension devices in advance, his doctors are not completely free from criminal charges for assisting his death.
The chief doctor attending to him asked the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seoul to authenticate Cardinal Kim’s will and Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk had to confirm he would.
To stop further confusion, clear rules in relation to dying with dignity need to be established.
In addition, we hope that people learn from Cardinal Kim’s generosity and come to have a more positive attitude toward organ donation. There are 18,000 patients in the country, who are desperately waiting for organs. However, there are far fewer donors than there are people who need organs. Last year, the number of people whose organs were donated after brain death was the highest, but was still only 256. There are 3,600 patients waiting for a cornea transplant, but only 88 people donated their corneas last year.
There is no more beautiful ending than giving life to those left behind. The late Cardinal Kim has set a fine example for us.