06/13/2007, 00.00
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Seoul, the debate on euthanasia opens

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young
The removal of a respirator which kept a comatose woman suffering from liver cirrhosis alive has sparked public debate over “mercy killing” and its judicial consequences. The health minister asks for “majority consensus”.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – The case of  a “mercy killing” in South Korea has opened the euthanasia debate, a theme that has until now been ignored both by public opinion and the law upon till this point, fuelling great expectation ahead of a decision by the Supreme Court.


The case arose after a 30-year-old doctor, who is only identified by the name Park, removed the respirator which kept a comatose woman suffering from liver cirrhosis alive. The man was arrested at the request of the woman’s daughter, whom he claimed had requested him to carry out the act in the first place.  In fact the woman had expressed her wish not to be kept alive by artificial means.  Now the woman’s daughter is being accused by her brother of murder.


The arrest was carried out by police from Bangbae, and Seoul, who sent the case to prosecutors with the opinion that the doctor should be charged with no crime. Given the lack of precedent the case has been passed on to the Supreme Court, who will now have to judge the issue.


Korea has had only one previous incident of euthanasia, when in 2004, the Seoul High Court ruled on the so-called ‘Boramae Hospital case,’ in which two doctors were indicted for allowing the discharge of a patient suffering from a brain haemorrhage at the insistence of the patient’s family, after which the patient died. In that event the Court ruled that “limited cases of termination of hospital treatment, including passive euthanasia, could be allowed if a terminally ill patient asks for the termination of treatment”.


Yet public opinion argues that the cases are far different: Boramae was not active but rather passive euthanasia.  This most recent episode, often called ‘dignified death,’ is allowed in many countries, including Japan.


Jeong Jun-seop, an official at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said he has faith in the Courts decision on this new case, “There is a wide gap in opinion between groups but social consensus needs to be reached in order to consider submitting related bills to the National Assembly”.


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