Law to allow terminal patients to end treatment

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Law to allow terminal patients to end treatment

The National Assembly on Friday passed the Death with Dignity Act, which allows certain life-sustaining medical treatments for terminally ill patients to be stopped. The act will take effect in January 2018.

The National Assembly convened both the Legislation and Judiciary Committee and a plenary session on Friday to vote on the bill. At the plenary session, 202 out of 203 lawmakers attending approved the bill, with one abstaining.

It has taken 19 years for the act to pass.

The issue was first brought up in 1997, after a doctor at SMG-SNU Boramae Medical Center was indicted on a charge of abetting homicide after allowing a terminally ill patient to be discharged.

According to the act, terminally ill patients or their family can make the decision to end four life-sustaining medical treatments - cardiopulmonary resuscitation, hemodialysis, anti-cancer treatment and artificial respiration - if the patients have no chance of being cured or recovering. Doctors will not be punished if they stop these four life-sustaining medical treatments if patients or their families request they be stopped.

Currently, doctors can be charged with abetting homicide and patients’ family members can be indicted for homicide if they stop these treatments, so terminally ill patients often spend their final days in intensive care units.

Under the new law, doctors can stop providing life-sustaining medical treatments if they have a letter of intent from the patient, which will be valid even if the patient is in a coma or otherwise unconscious.

If there is no such written directive and the patient is unconscious, two family members must confirm whether the patient wants life-sustaining medical treatment. If the family can’t confirm the patient’s intent, all members must agree on a decision. Family members include spouses, children and parents. If there are no such family members available, siblings can make the decision.

BY SHIN SUNG-SIK [enational@joongang.co.kr]

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