More than 3,000 sign up in state pilot project for 'death with dignity'

Park Sae-jin Reporter Posted : 2017-12-07 13:20 Updated : 2017-12-07 13:20
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More than 3,000 people have applied for "death with dignity", known as spontaneous euthanasia, in less than two months after a state pilot project was launched in South Korea, allowing patients with no hope of recovery to reject medical care for life prolongation.

The project began in October when five designated medical centers began receiving applicants to minimize public confusion before the so-called "well-dying" bill takes effect in February next year.

The bill allows patients with incurable diseases to reject any life-sustaining treatment such as CPR, artificial respiration and cancer-fighting drugs when they clarify their clear intention in written statements while still being sentient.

As of December 6, 3,611 people have applied. Health ministry officials appeared to be surprised because the pilot project involved only five places. The window for applications will be open wider next year.

"The number of people applying for the program is increasing very fast. More than one thousand signed up in the last eight days," Ban Yun-ju, a health ministry official, told Aju News Thursday.

The sharp increase reflected previous surveys showing that many old people supported their own choice to die if they were in an irremediable situation. "When the death with dignity law takes effect next year, we believe the number of people applying for the program will spike," Ban said.

The bill allows terminal patients to reject any life-sustaining medical care when they clearly state their intention in written statements while being sentient. If they are unconscious, doctors can stop such treatment on consent from two family members who should testify that the patients wanted "death with dignity".

When it is impossible to figure out what the patients think, it requires unanimous consent from all family members and parental consent in the case of minors. If a patient has no family, a hospital bioethics committee can make a decision.

In South Korea, a serious debate on euthanasia began in 1997 when doctors at a hospital in Seoul were charged with murder after releasing a dying patient at the request of family members. In a separate case in 2009, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a family who wanted another hospital in Seoul to stop treating a patient in a coma so that she could die with dignity.