12/18/2008, 00.00
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Physicians reject euthanasia for woman in vegetative state

The doctors are appealing to the supreme court. The woman's relatives are asking for the suspension of feeding and ventilation. It would be the first case of legal euthanasia. Severance Hospital is refusing to carry out the sentence of the district court of Seoul. Head of the Korean Christian Bioethics Association: the court's decision is "hasty and ambiguous."

Seoul (AsiaNews) - South Korean physicians are appealing to the supreme court to stop the euthanasia of a 75-year-old woman in a vegetative state. Severance Hospital in Sinchon-dong is rejecting the decision of the district court of Seoul, which approved the request to suspend feeding and ventilation submitted by her relatives. "This is a question concerning life, and requires the highest degree of prudence," says hospital director Park Chang-Il.

The district court handed down the sentence on November 28, in the first case of a court in the country approving the euthanasia of a patient.

The affair of Kim - the name by which the woman is being identified - began on February 16, 2008, when she fell into a coma after suffering cardiac arrest during a lung examination. At the end of May, Kim's relatives asked Severance to suspend feeding and ventilation for the woman, but the doctors rejected the request. The family members then went to the court of Seoul, asking for an injunction to suspend treatment. On December 4, the administration of Severance said that it would wait until December 17, the deadline established by the court of Seoul for carrying out the euthanasia, before taking any action.

South Korean law prohibits euthanasia. Before the case at the hospital of Sinchon-dong, three other cases have raised the debate in public opinion. In 2007, a doctor removed the respirator from a woman suffering from cirrhosis of the liver: after he was arrested, he said he was respecting the patient's own wishes. Also last year, a father did the same thing to his son who was in a coma, and his sentence was suspended. The three years before, two doctors had interrupted treatment for a man affected by a brain hemorrhage, at the request of his family. At that time, the court of Seoul had declared euthanasia admissible "if it was by the patient's request."

Judge Kim Cheon-soo, who authored the decision, says he hopes that the decision of the court of Seoul will be carried out by the doctors at Severance, trusting in the religious inspiration of the hospital, founded in 1885 by Protestant missionaries. According to the judge, the decision does not promote euthanasia, and he says that "doctors from Seoul National University Hospital and Asan Medical Center have confirmed that she is expected to survive up to three or four months at best. In this condition, further treatment is meaningless."

The Protestant minister Lee Sang-won, head of the Korean Christian Bioethics Association, says that the decision of the court of Seoul is "hasty and ambiguous," and can be applied "only to brain-dead people." For Lee, a person in a vegetative state cannot be considered as having "no hope of recovery."

The secretary general of the Life and Ethics committee of the Archdiocese of Seoul, Park Jung-woo, says that "patients should receive the best care possible, but how one accepts death is also important when there's no chance of recovery. A patient choosing to withdraw his own treatment is one thing, but removing treatment from someone else is different."

Anti-euthanasia associations are expressing harsh condemnation of the decision by the court in the capital, which requires the suspension of both feeding and artificial ventilation. For the pro-life movements, the interruption of feeding makes the sentence an act of euthanasia.

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