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Right to die decision is upheld by Korea court

DOCTORS treating a comatose woman must remove her from life support as her family requests, the South Korean Supreme Court ruled yesterday, upholding a landmark ruling in the country.

The high court ruling in favor of a patient's right to die is a first for South Korea, where societal mores and laws have been shaped by Confucian ideals that call for preserving and honoring the body.

The 76-year-old patient has been in a persistent vegetative state since suffering brain damage in February 2008. Her family asked doctors at theSeverance Hospital in Seoul to remove her from life support, saying she had always opposed keeping people alive with machines if there was no chance of revival.

The hospital refused, citing a South Korean law that forbids physicians from taking patients off respirators or life support. The children of the woman sued the hospital for the right to remove her from life support.

In November a Seoul District Court sided with the family and ordered removal of the patient's respirator. Severance Hospital appealed but an appellate court upheld the verdict in February.

Yesterday the Supreme Court upheld the rulings and ordered the hospital to remove the life support, with chief justice Lee Yong-hun calling the family's request "just."

"It can tarnish people's dignity" if doctors continue medical treatment on patients who have no chance of revival and are expected to die soon, Lee said.

In South Korea, long shaped by Confucianism and home to a sizable Christian community, euthanasia and suicide were long shunned as violations of the body.

But public sentiment has shifted in recent years. A 2008 survey commissioned by the National Cancer Center showed that 87.5 percent of those surveyed favored removing patients facing imminent death from life support.

Though South Korean law bars doctors from removing patients from life support, many hospitals have begun disconnecting machines from some patients with no chance of revival, based on the patient's wishes or family members' requests.


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