Court reaffirms medical licensing rules, but barely

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Court reaffirms medical licensing rules, but barely

By a razor-thin margin, the Constitutional Court on Thursday ruled in favor of a law that allows only licensed acupuncturists and Oriental medicine doctors to perform moxibustion, an alternative therapy involving burning and administering an herb called mugwort.

Four of the court’s nine judges ruled that the law was constitutional and five ruled that it was not, one short of the six required to overturn it. The court considered the issue after an unlicensed acupuncturist surnamed Kim appealed a conviction for offering moxibustion treatments to over 1,000 people.

The issue entered the media spotlight because Kim was trained by Kim Nam-soo, 95, one of Korea’s few remaining licensed acupuncturists. Kim earned his license before 1962, when the government stopped issuing them.

The Constitutional Court’s Chief Justice Lee Kang-kook was among the four who ruled in favor of law. He was joined by Lee Kong-hyun, Min Hyeong-ki and Kim Hee-ok.

The four judges wrote in their position that “the purpose of medical treatment is to enhance people’s health, and so it is safer and more reliable for them to take medical treatments from professionals whose credentials have been verified by the state.”

The judges continued, “A complete ban on unauthorized people practicing medicine serves the public interest and does not excessively infringe upon the basic rights of unauthorized people.”

The five remaining justices, Cho Dae-hyen, Lee Dong-heub, Mok Young-joon, Song Doo-hwan and Kim Jong-dae, argued that the law infringes on an individual’s right to choose a method of receiving medical treatment based on their access to health care and financial resources.

“The selection of a medical treatment method is a decision that should be left fully up to the ill person,” Justice Kim Jong-dae said.

The Constitutional Court’s ruling, however, left unanswered the question of whether the government should come up with related measures to enable unauthorized practitioners to carry out moxibustion in a limited fashion. Five of the nine judges said that if a medical treatment could not harm a person’s life, then only allowing licensed doctors to practice it was a violation of the legal injunction against over-regulation.

Justice Kim Hee-ok, who voted in favor of the law, gave additional comments on the verdict, saying, “If there is any need to revise the current medical system to enhance the health of the public, the country should take action.”

“Thursday’s verdict means that Justices found the law doesn’t violate the Constitution, but the Justices conceded to some extent that there need to be some new policies to solve this problem,” said an official at the Constitutional Court.

In five previous rulings, the Constitutional Court Justices had unanimously ruled in favor of the keeping the law as it was, possibly signaling a shift in the court’s treatment of the issue.

By Jeon Jin-bae []
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