More than 8,000 people apply for death with dignity in pilot project

Lim Chang-won Reporter Posted : 2018-01-16 15:33 Updated : 2018-01-16 15:33
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SEOUL, Jan. 16 (Aju News) -- Thousands of South Koreans have applied for "death with dignity", known as spontaneous euthanasia, in a state pilot project launched three months ago to allow patients with no hope of recovery to reject medical care for life prolongation.

The project began on October 23 last year 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 project expires on Tuesday, and government officials will work on legislation in February through consultations with medical, religious and other groups.  

The health ministry said that as of Monday, about 8,500 people unrelated to death have applied while 80 patients suffering from incurable diseases picked "death with dignity" of their own volition or on consent from relatives. 

Health officials say the number of applicants was far higher than anticipated, reflecting a strong public interest in the project.
The proposed 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.

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.

Previous surveys showed that many old people supported their own choice to die if they were in an irremediable situation.