Dignity in death

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Dignity in death

A study by the Economist Intelligence Unit placed South Korea as the 18th best place in the world to die among 80 studied countries. In the same index compiled by the unit of the Economist on 40 countries on measuring and comparing the end-of-life conditions and care, Korea ranked 32nd. Still the support and treatment towards the end of life remains lacking considering the country’s economic scale. Death is a part of human life. To die well is essential to everyone’s well-being. Everyone wishes to end their life painlessly. To do so would underscore the quality of life in a country.

Korea scored well in measurements on treatment support and human resources. We have a solid health insurance system and excellent medical professionals. But Korea scored poorly in the quality of palliative care. It ranked 33rd on the quality of palliative care rating. Just 5.6 percent of people received palliative care in their last stage of life, compared with 63.6 percent in Australia. Palliative care and treatment quality is crucial for a patient to suffer less and die with dignity. People must be able to get hospice or necessary care at the end of their life. The terminally ill need strong doses of drugs to ease their pain. Both the mind and body need to be at ease for one to die in dignity. But palliative care for local patients mostly involves an artificial ventilator. Their life is merely extended through cardiopulmonary resuscitation and by various anticancer drugs and treatment. About 20 percent, or 50,000 people, die after life prolonging care. Local laws do not give people the right to die in dignity. A social body recommended legalization of death with dignity after the Supreme Court recognized the legality of euthanasia for a 77-year-old woman who had been hospitalized in a coma for 459 days in 2009, but there has been little progress so far. A member of the Saenuri Party motioned the bill in July, which has not been submitted to the standing committee for review.

There is a lot to be done to improve hospice and palliative care. There are about 60 hospices with 1,009 beds. The government promised to increase beds to 2,500 this year, but again nothing has been done. Demand surged since hospice care was included in national insurance coverage, but many have to wait for weeks or months due to a shortage of beds. Terminally-ill patients do not have that much time. The National Assembly must not drag its feet on the right to die in dignity act. This is not an issue of ideology but of basic human dignity. The government also must increase hospice beds immediately.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 9, Page 34

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