Going to heaven again, gracefully
May, the queen of the season, has arrived. On a bright spring day last weekend, I took my 93-year-old father to the hospital. The sky above the building was clear just like the rest of Korea, but the air inside was quite different. Not just the patients, but also the families had concerned looks on their faces. The patients who got well and were being discharged also refrained from laughing or cheering in consideration of those still suffering.
“I’ll go back to heaven again. At the end of my outing in this beautiful world, I’ll go back and say, ‘It was beautiful.’?” While poet Chun Sang-pyong appreciated the beauty of the world, the journey back to heaven is tiring and challenging for most people. According to the Health Insurance Review & Assessment Service, the average medical bill paid during a patient’s last year before death is 109.9 million won ($97,000), 14 times the average annual patient bill. While people increasingly discuss preparing for the increased lifespan, they only focus on retirement pensions and insurance and how to keep healthy until age 100.
The National Life Ethics Policy Research Institute, an independent research center specializing in life ethics, officially launched on April 25, held a seminar under the theme “The Suspension of Life-sustaining Therapy in Korea and the Direction in the Future.” According to the presentation of Professor Lee Il-hak of Yonsei University, 1,169 patients at 211 hospitals with intensive care units were considering stopping the life-sustaining therapy. However, only seven hospitals, or 3.32 percent, decided to delay or suspend the therapy. The hospitals or the doctors are not to be blamed. The public discussion is still ongoing, and the National Assembly is delaying legislation of related laws. In Germany and Austria, doctors are not allowed to offer medical treatment against the will of the patient, even if the patient’s decision is irrational or may lead to death. But in Korea, the doctor will go to jail if he does not perform necessary treatments.
Japanese doctor Fumio Yamazaki wrote “Dying in a Japanese Hospital,” a bestselling book about dignified death and stopping meaningless life-sustaining treatment. In the book that is based on true stories, Dr. Yamazaki advises that you need to tell the family and the doctor to “Never perform meaningless resuscitation and let me die in peace.” And we need to talk more about the “end of the outing” both individually and as part of a society.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun