South Korea high court upholds right to die

South Korea high court upholds right to die

[JURIST] The South Korean Supreme Court [official website, in Korean] on Thursday upheld a lower court ruling allowing a brain-damaged patient the right to die [JURIST news archive]. The patient, a 76-year old woman on life-support at a Yonsei University medical center [hospital website], is brain-dead [Hankyora report] and unable to survive without the use of a respirator. Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon reasoned that, since revival of the patient is impossible and death is imminent without a respirator, extending life-support could impose on the dignity of her life. The judge held that, for future cases, doctors should make efforts to confirm patients' wishes to die with dignity and that such determinations can be deduced from an analysis of different factors. Korean Minister of Health Jeon Jae-hee [official profile] spoke out against the ruling, claiming that legalization of the right to die should be passed as a law complete with public hearings. Medical professionals have supported the ruling but also expressed a desire to see it backed up by legislation.

The Supreme Court appeal was brought by the Yonsei Severance Hospital after an appellate court in February ruled [JURIST report] in favor of the patient's family. Several courts and governments have recently approached the legal issues surrounding the removal of life support, food and treatment from persons in a persistent vegetative state. Also in February, Italian lawmakers indicated that they would proceed with a vote on right-to-die legislation despite the death of comatose patient Eluana Englaro [JURIST reports] after the removal of her feeding tube. In November, the Mexican Senate approved a law [JURIST report] that would allow terminally ill patients to refuse medical treatment. In 2005, the Terri Schiavo case [JURIST report] highlighted similar issues in the US.