06/10/2009, 00.00
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First case of passive euthanasia provokes criticism by Catholic Church

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young
Hospital will end medical treatment for a comatose 77-year-old woman in response to Supreme Court order confirming family’s wishes. Catholic leaders express concern over the ambiguities of the Court’s ruling.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – The South Korean Supreme Court has ordered Seoul’s Yonsei Severance Hospital to remove life support from a comatose woman. The date will be decided later in consultation with the family. Following the decision the Catholic Church has expressed its concern over the ruling which, in its opinion, degrades human life. It also noted the ambiguities that underlie the motivations for the court’s ruling.

On 21 May the Supreme Court ruled that the family’s will to allow the patient “to die with dignity” must be respected. If carried out this would be the first case of “passive euthanasia” in the country.

According to the judges the patient, 77 and known only by her last name Kim, has no chances of recovery. She lapsed into a coma in February last year after excessive bleeding caused by a botched endoscopy operation and has been hospitalised ever since.

Following the top court's ruling, Kim's family demanded that she be immediately removed from life support.

The hospital became involved in a legal battle with the family to keep the woman alive, but announced today that it would respect the court’s order.

In its decision the court ruled that the patient had “entered the irrevocable death stage where revival is impossible, important life functions have been lost and death is imminent without the help of a respirator.” Under the circumstances “extending life support could infringe upon the dignity of the patient’s life”.

The Catholic Church’s reaction was immediate. In a statement Mgr Gabriel Chang Bong-hun, president of the Committee for Bioethics of the Bishops’ Conference of Korea, slammed the decision saying it degraded human life, reducing it to “a thing”.

What especially concerns Mgr Chang are the attempts to undermine the dignity of human life. For this reason he has urged people to dispel the notion that man can decide in matters of life and death, something which is tantamount to “blasphemy” against God.

For South Korean politician Lee Hoi-chang, 74, the Supreme Court’s ruling is also ambiguous in terms of its motivations.

A legal scholar and the youngest justice appointed to the Supreme Court at the age of 46, Lee explained that the Court made its decision on the bases of what it considers the “essential” conditions of a patient’s “terminal condition” and on the “presumption” of his or her “will”.

He noted however that any terminal condition does not necessarily mean death for the patient. Equally he explained that a patient’s will cannot be predetermined.

For this reason “death with dignity” simply means “ending human life”, which is another way of saying “euthanasia.”

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