Friday, July 16, 2010

South Korea did not legalize euthanasia.

By Alex Schadenberg
International Chair, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Yesterday, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) wrote a letter to the AFP news service stating that their report: S Korea legalizes euthanasia for terminally ill was wrong.

This is the statement that we sent to the AFP news service:
The following article from your news service is not clear, it says that South Korea will legalize euthanasia and then the article is about removing life support from terminally ill people. The article states: "They agreed that doctors could stop prolonged life-sustaining treatment, based only on prior written or oral statements from patients." 
It appears that South Korea has approved the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment which is not euthanasia. Euthanasia is the direct and intentional killing of a person for reasons of mercy. This has not been legalized in South Korea. 
The article doesn't refer to the issue of fluids and food, and therefore until I see the actual guidelines I must say that euthanasia has not being legalized in South Korea, but rather discontinuing life-sustaining treatment has been approved. 
You need to be more careful with your reporting because these ethical issues effect many people and if you incorrectly report on an issue you create confusion. 
Alex Schadenberg
International Chair, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
Today I received the South Korean – End-of-life guidelines from a Korean physician. It is clear that S Korea did not legalize euthanasia. The guidelines concern the rules that must be followed before a physician can withdraw or withhold medical treatment.
The guidelines state:
  • They are for terminally ill patients, but do not apply to PVS patients, unless the PVS patient is terminally ill.
  • They are for extraordinary treatments only (eg. Respirators, CPR). Ordinary treatments such as fluids and food should be maintained.
  • Apply to adult patients, based on prior written statements. 
  • The statement should be prepared after counseling with doctor(s) with a 2 week mandatory deliberation period.
  • Oral statements of patients are accepted, when it can be proven.
  • Can be withdrawn anytime.
  • A national review committee on end-of-life care will be established.
  • Hospital ethics committees on end-of-life care will be established.

The guidelines did not approve:
  • Surrogate decision making is not allowed for adult patients, but partially allowed for minors and people with mental disabilities.
It is clear that euthanasia has not been legalized in S Korea. The guidelines do not approve of euthanasia by dehydration either.

It is also clear that the South Korea guidelines are more cautious than most national end-of-life guidelines in the western world. While I share the concern about how "terminally ill" may be defined, these guidelines do not appear to be designed to open the floodgate.

It appears that the AFP news service is intentionally confusing the public or it does not understand what euthanasia is. AFP also wrongly stated that the German court recently approved euthanasia. AFP needs to publish a retraction of their incorrect news article.

Link to the article - S.Korean legalises euthanasia for terminally ill: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gl3mqDEVPwTzmEq1B_nKsBLg8TGA

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