Go to contents

Court Orders Comatose Patient Off Life Support

Posted November. 29, 2008 04:09,   


In an unprecedented ruling in Korea, a domestic court yesterday ordered a hospital to respect a patient’s right to die with dignity if he or she is medically unable to extend life.

The Seoul Western District Court ordered the removal of a respirator from a 76-year-old woman identified only as “Kim,” who has been in a vegetative state. Her family sued Shinchon Severance Hospital to take her off life support.

“The aged Kim has shown no signs of medical improvement since falling into a coma eight months ago, and is expected to live only three to four more months. So prolonging her life by artificial means is medically pointless,” the court ruling said. “She expressed her wish to die a natural death. So the hospital should remove the respirator from Kim.”

“Article 10 of the Constitution, which guarantees an individual’s right to personality and happiness, also includes the right to decide how to die and handle his or her bodily functions. When treatment with a life extension tube is meaningless from a medical perspective and a patient’s intent to halt treatment is inferred, letting him or her die naturally is more congruent to human dignity and value than extending life.”

Kim fell into a coma in February after her pulmonary vessels ruptured in the middle of an endoscopy on her lungs. Her family filed a request in May to the court to get her off life support.

On the ruling, the hospital said, “The decision to appeal will be made after we receive the court ruling. Given that the hospital is a Christian entity that values human life and that the removal of the respirator will prompt a backlash from religious and human rights groups, an appeal is highly likely.”

Upon receiving the transcript of the ruling, the hospital will form a team of ethics committee members, doctors and lawyers to make a final decision on the appeal.

alwaysj@donga.com likeday@donga.com