Bioethics committee says right to die should be law

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Bioethics committee says right to die should be law

The National Bioethics Committee reached an agreement yesterday to allow terminally ill patients or their family members to withdraw life-sustaining treatment as long as they have consent from their doctors.

The group recommended that the government create a special law on the matter.

Those who will be subject to such self-determination rights on life-sustaining care are terminally ill patients with no possibility of recovery who are in deteriorating medical condition, or “in the process of dying.”

“We recommend patients document their wishes in advance directives, creating physician orders on life-sustaining treatment in consultations with doctors, in case they can’t make medical decisions on their own later,” the special committee said in a statement released yesterday.

With directives that convey the wishes of terminally ill patients to suspend the treatment that is keeping them alive and agreement from two doctors, a decision to suspend the life-sustaining care can be made, the committee said.

Such treatment includes artificial respiration, CPR, blood filtration and the use of anti-cancer drugs. However, a hospital should still administer water, nutrients and oxygen, the committee said.

If there is no way to discover a patient’s wishes on the matter as they are dying and unable to communicate, all family members would need to reach a unanimous decision on letting them die.

The consent of two doctors would also be necessary in this case.

If there is no family member to represent a patient in a coma, judgment on the matter would be up to the hospital ethics committee, which would review what would be in the patient’s best interest.

“We focused on how life should be led while emphasizing the role of government in the matter and discussing ways to respect patients’ rights.

“We came to agree that the government should come up with a special law on the life-sustaining care issue to respect self-determination rights,” Kim Seong-duk, chairman of the presidential committee, said during a press briefing yesterday at the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Religious groups often oppose the act of allowing a terminally ill patient to pass away, saying that it devalues human life.

Kim said such claims stem from “a lack of social infrastructure” and “consensus” on the issue of respecting a person’s right to a dignified death.

With the recommendation from the special committee, the Welfare Ministry will seek to submit a bill on the matter for legislation during the second half of the year.

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