The Supreme Court on Thursday granted the right to die to a 77-year-old patient identified by her surname Kim who has been in a coma for 459 days. With the decision, all medical treatment to prolong her life will be stopped. It is the first case of legal euthanasia in Korea.
The Supreme Court said Kim's case satisfied four conditions to die with dignity: that the patient must be examined by a third medical party to prove that he or she has no chance of recovery; that the patient should have expressed a strong desire to halt life-sustaining treatment; that the only means of death is to remove life-sustaining treatment; and that only medical doctors have the right to stop treatment.
Kim visited a hospital for a bronchial endoscopy in February last year for suspected lung cancer. During the biopsy, Kim suffered unexpected profuse bleeding and lapsed into a coma. Kim's family sued for permission to let Kim die in peace on the grounds that living on a respirator would not be what Kim wants. The core question was how to confirm Kim’s opinion when she was in coma.
In the second appeal brought by Severance Hospital, the Supreme Court ruled that considering testimonies from the family and Kim's personal motto, Kim would have wanted to stop relying on life support. Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon said, "If a patient has reached a state of near-death where no recovery is possible and is deemed to have a desire to remove life support machines, the hospital can halt treatment without having to go through legal proceedings."
With Thursday's ruling, the number of similar cases of terminally ill patients is expected to grow.