South Korean Physicians Refuse to Pull Life Support from Disabled Woman, Appeal to Supreme Court
By Thaddeus M. Baklinski
SEOUL, S. Korea, December 19, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Doctors at Severance Hospital in Sinchon-dong are refusing to carry out the sentence of the Western District Court ordering doctors to remove life support, including feeding tubes, from a comatose woman. The physicians are appealing the ruling to S. Korea’s Supreme Court.
AsiaNews reports that the administration of Severance Hospital said that it would wait until December 17, the deadline established by the District Court for carrying out the euthanasia, before taking any action, and has now rejected the court’s decision.
"This is a question concerning life, and requires the highest degree of prudence," said hospital director Park Chang-Il.
LifeSiteNews reported earlier this month on the case, which centers on 75-year-old Kim Ok-kyung, who fell into what was reported as both a "coma" and a "persistent vegetative state" in February while undergoing a lung examination.
The patient’s family filed a court request in May asking the hospital to take the woman off life-support, claiming that extending Kim’s life using medical devices would prolong her "painful and meaningless" existence. The Seoul Western District court accepted the request to halt treatment, ordering the removal of feeding and ventilator tubes.
Anti-euthanasia groups are condemning the decision by the District Court, which requires the suspension of both feeding and artificial ventilation.
Protestant minister Lee Sang-won, head of the Korean Christian Bioethics Association, told AsiaNews that the decision of the court of Seoul is "hasty and ambiguous," and can be applied "only to brain-dead people." Lee said a person in a vegetative state cannot be considered as having "no hope of recovery."
The mainstream media reports of Kim being "brain dead" were taken to task by American bioethicist Wesley J. Smith, who said in his blog that "it seems the patient is unconscious, not brain dead." (http://www.wesleyjsmith.com/blog/2008/12/court-did-not-authorize-euthanasia-in.html)
"The issue is about whether life support can be removed from such people, not whether they can be actively killed. Sometimes life support is removed from people in a persistent vegetative state and they don’t die (unless that life support is food and fluids)," he stated, criticizing the media’s use of misleading and euphemistic language in reports on bioethical issues.
"These issues are international and need a consistent use of language and terms," Smith explained, "Otherwise, we will have chaos rather than informed and rational ethical debates." He added, "Indeed, the language of bioethics at the popular level is already so muddled by sloppy language, rank redefinition, and euphemistic argument (‘aid in dying’) that engaging these crucial issues in the public square is already near the point of futility.”
Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition told LifeSiteNews that there is a significant and profound difference between removal of a respirator, which would allow natural death to follow, and removal of a feeding tube which would inevitably cause death by dehydration and is therefore active euthanasia.
Schadenberg said that he was encouraged by the conduct of the physicians at the Severance Hospital.
"The fact is that this woman is cognitively disabled but not otherwise dying," Schadenberg explained.
"If physicians withdraw fluids from her, death will result from dehydration. The withdrawal of the respirator is different than withdrawing fluids because withdrawing fluids from someone who is not otherwise dying leads to a certain death by dehydration, and not from the underlying medical condition."
Schadenberg connected the case of Mrs. Kim with the situation of Eluana Englaro of Italy. The nuns who run the hospice in which Eluana has been living for 14 years refused to carry out a court order to remove her food and hydration tube.
"This becomes the second international circumstance whereby a court agreed to dehydrate a person to death with medical caregivers refusing to do so. The Englaro case in Italy resulted in the caregivers at the hospice refusing to dehydrate her to death and now an Italian government minister has blocked the court ordered dehydration," Schadenberg said.
"We can only hope that humane hearts and the resistance to death by dehydration will prevail," Schadenberg concluded.
Read previous LSN coverage of the Kim case:
South Korean Court Orders Removal of Life Support from Comatose Woman
Read previous LSN coverage of the Englaro case:
Eluana Englaro to Die by Dehydration after Italian High Court Ruling
Italian Nuns Refuse to Kill Eluana Englaro
It is “Illegal” to Stop Food and Hydration of Vulnerable Patients: Top Italian Minister