Top court rules to allow unauthorized treatments

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Top court rules to allow unauthorized treatments

The Supreme Court set a precedent by ruling Monday to allow certain unproven treatments for diseases where medical treatment is necessary but not legally allowed.

Some aspects of treatment to treat those with incurable diseases, such as experimental treatments and medications still in clinical trial, are not covered by health insurance.

Thus, doctors underwent the dilemma of endorsing unauthorized treatments to cure patients while these patients faced the pressure of shouldering the entire burden of the cost of the treatment. Doctors stated their autonomy as medical experts was taken away while patients stated their right to choice was limited by these restrictions.

In its ruling, the court stated that in such cases where there is a substantial circumstantial reason for the treatment method, it should be allowed.

A Supreme Court spokesman stated Monday that the court ruled that such previously illegal treatments be permitted “in the case that the hospital can prove medical stability and offer plenty of explanation.”

Six years ago, the Korea Leukemia Patient Group filed a complaint against the Yeouido St. Mary’s Hospital stating that the cost for an experimental cancer treatment was too high.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare made the hospital pay some 10 billion won ($8.64 million) in fines for providing patients these experimental treatments between April and September of 2006. In turn, the hospital appealed to the Health Ministry and the National Health Insurance Corporation.

The highest court’s ruling stated, “Medical institutes have a duty to advance the quality of medical treatment and provide the patient with the best treatment.”

It further said that so long as the medical safety and effectiveness of the treatment have been confirmed and the patient has agreed to receive it, the treatment cannot be considered wrongful.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry responded that treatments that meet medical safety and effectiveness requirements have already been legalized and approved to be provided through health insurance and that it is not reasonable for such experimental treatments to be recognized as being qualified for health insurance.

Huh Dae-seuk, a doctor of hematology and oncology at Seoul National University Hospital, said, “Until now, the policy did not keep up with the reality of the progress in the medical scene so the Supreme Court reflecting this change is a positive move.”

By Sarah Kim, Lee Dong-hyun[sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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