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Why is 'Right to Die' not allowed in Asian countries?

Posted April. 23, 2024 07:46,   

Updated April. 23, 2024 07:46


In December last year, Lee Myeong-sik, hoping for the legalization of assisted dignified death, lodged a constitutional appeal. For five years, he has been tormented by daily bouts of pain, poorly managed even by narcotic medications. To alleviate his suffering by even a mere 1-2%, Lee must endure severe side effects and cannot forgo medication. His solitary solace lies in the pending decision of the Constitutional Court.

This issue was brought into sharp focus by recent news from Japan, prompting Lee to break his long silence on his blog. It concerned the sentencing of Dr. Okubo to 18 years for euthanizing a 51-year-old woman suffering from ALS in 2019. Lee vented his frustration about the prevalent irresponsibility he perceives, citing the despair of an 83-year-old father who lost his daughter to the disease. The father's comment that no sentence could bring his daughter back and his hope that no other family should endure their pain echoed deeply with Lee. He passionately argued, "What can a father offer his suffering daughter if not a wish for her peace? Should he merely hope for her prolonged suffering?" Lee also criticized the state's inaction, asking, "What has the state done for patients who, unable to bear their pain, plead for death and are willing to pay for it? If it cannot take responsibility, it must provide solutions."

The Japanese film "Plan 75" illustrates a government-run euthanasia program, capturing the anxieties of many. It portrays a grim view where the elderly population strains national finances, disproportionately impacting the youth. If such a policy were broadly implemented, it's worth pondering how any senior could avoid feeling societal pressure.

Following the publication of an article about Lee Myeong-sik on March 10, Research and Research CEO Noh Gyu-hyeong shared findings from a poll on the Act on Decisions on Life-Sustaining Treatment and the Law on Assisted Dignified Death. Initiated by the article, the survey sampled 1,000 individuals differentiated by gender, age, region, and religion.

Survey results indicated that 65.3% supported the Act on Decisions on Life-Sustaining Treatment. While only 12.7% had written advance directives, a significant 62% expressed intentions to do so. Regarding the assisted dignified death law, 62.7% favored it, with only 12.1% opposing it. Notably, approval rates increased with respondent age, while religious affiliation had minimal impact.

On a personal note, I've experienced a significant shift in the discourse around euthanasia and dignified death. In early 2018, interviewing Japanese author Sugako Hashida, who publicly wished for euthanasia, I was concerned about being perceived as an unconventional journalist. Yet, within just five to six years, a majority now seriously considers death and supports dignified dying, driven by the increased proximity of death as our elderly population grows.

Meanwhile, the prevalence of the right to die self-determination in individualistic Western developed nations—and its absence in Asia—weighs heavily on my mind. This likely stems from divergent East-West perspectives on life and death and individual rights. In societies where collectivism prevails, opening avenues for assisted dignified death could lead to concerns about undue pressure on individuals.

These observations prompt critical questions about Korean society's leaning between individualism and collectivism and whether it could responsibly manage legalized assisted euthanasia. The Ministry of Health and Welfare recently proposed shifting the parameters for discontinuing life-sustaining treatment to earlier in the disease process. Observing the rapid societal changes and the intense focus on elderly issues firsthand, I believe the current trend toward valuing individual rights will continue. This underscores the need for more profound societal discussion and preparation on this sensitive issue.