‘Death with dignity’ patient dies after 201 days
After breathing on her own for 201 days, a comatose woman, whose artificial respirator had been removed under a court ruling based on her presumed will for “death with dignity,” died yesterday. Kim Ok-gyeong was 77 years old.
“She died of multiple organ failure including pulmonary edema and kidney dysfunction,” Dr. Park Chang-il, head of Yonsei University’s Severance Hospital, said in a press conference yesterday. “Based on the Supreme Court ruling, we removed the artificial respirator from her on June 23 of last year. She, however, has been receiving other treatments such as oxygen and a nutrition supply.”
“The court ruling was about turning off the respirator, so we did provide other treatments,” Park said. “We express our condolence to the family and wish her to rest in peace.”
The woman fell into a coma in February 2008 as a result of bleeding during a lung biopsy at the Severance Hospital. Later, her children asked a local court to grant them legal permission to stop medical treatment that was keeping her alive. Despite the hospital’s resistance, the Supreme Court ruled in May of last year that the artificial respirator be terminated. Based on the way she acted and talked before she fell ill, the court said the patient would have wanted such action.
Dr. Park Mu-seok, the physician who was in charge of Kim, said yesterday the family had rejected an artificial respirator, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and blood transfusions, but asked for internal treatments such as providing antibiotics, oxygen and nutrition when necessary.
“It is inaccurate to say that she died because her life support system was removed,” Park Chang-il said. “Stopping life support treatment is about ending all treatments including nutrition and oxygen,” he said. “In her case, the artificial respirator was removed, but other treatments were given.”
The Severance head also said it was medically inappropriate to discuss “death with dignity” with her case. “The death of Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan is a case of the death with dignity. When a terminal patient, like the cardinal, is about to die, no measures to lengthen his life were taken and I think that is the death with dignity,” Park said. “In her case, only the artificial respirator was turned off. Medically speaking, death with dignity is not an appropriate expression for this case.” Asked if removal of the artificial respirator was a direct cause of her death, Park said she would have lived longer if it had been used.
By Ser Myo-ja [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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