Doctor dismissed after claiming farmer died of natural causes

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Doctor dismissed after claiming farmer died of natural causes

The doctor of Baek Nam-gi, a 69-year-old activist and farmer who died on Sept. 25 after a 317-day coma, which was induced when he was shot by a water cannon at an antigovernment rally in November 2015, was dismissed from his department chief position Thursday at Seoul National University Hospital.

Dr. Paek Sun-ha was removed from his post in the neurosurgery department in what appears to be a punishment for writing on the farmer’s death certificate that he died of a “natural cause by illness,” instead of an “unnatural cause by an external element,” ignoring the fact that the patient suffered a brain hemorrhage after being struck by a water cannon.

The farmer’s family members raised the possibility that the hospital’s death report was influenced by local authorities, who do not want to admit they killed him.

Dr. Paek fought back by saying Baek suffered acute renal failure before his death, leading to cardiopulmonary arrest, and that he could have lived longer had he received treatment.

But the family refused additional treatment, saying the farmer used to say when he was physically stable that he did not want to extend his life through medical procedures.

According to official guidelines from the Korean Medical Association, cardiopulmonary arrest, which is seen in all deaths, should not be recorded as the cause of death.

Public backlash has been ongoing over the issue and reached a crescendo when police tried to autopsy the farmer late last month to determine the exact cause of death.

The hospital responded to the clamor by forming its own investigatory committee and concluded that Dr. Paek should have written that the farmer died of an “unnatural cause by an external element.”

Dr. Paek refused to conform to the hospital’s order to correct his error.

As to why Dr. Paek was being removed from his position, the hospital said in a statement that it was “difficult” for him to perform his role as department chief amid the controversy, avoiding any suggestion that his dismissal may have been punitive.

But a hospital source, who spoke with the JoongAng Ilbo under the condition of anonymity, said otherwise.

“He damaged the hospital’s reputation by issuing the wrong death certificate,” the source said, adding that Dr. Paek was forced to step down under the direct order of the hospital’s president and CEO, an unusual process compared to other similar cases, in which a formal disciplinary or personnel committee decides a doctor’s fate.

“He caused unnecessary controversy,” the source added.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, SHIN SUNG-SIK [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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