South Korea High Court Upholds Ruling Allowing Removal of Patient’s Life Support

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 12, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

South Korea High Court Upholds Ruling Allowing Removal of Patient’s Life Support

by Steven Ertelt Editor
February 12
, 2009

Seoul, South Korea ( — The South Korea High Court has upheld a lower court ruling from December allowing the family members of a terminally ill woman to remove her feeding tube and take her off life support. The decision comes just three days after an international debate over the euthanasia death of Eluana Englaro.

The ruling didn’t allow euthanasia or assisted suicide but prompted pro-life advocates to worry it is a first step in that direction.

The 75-year-old woman, identified by the name Kim, supposedly has no chance of recovering and was declared brain-dead in February after she sustained brain damage and fell into a coma following a hospital visit.

The hospital rejected the family’s request to take her life and the family eventually filed a lawsuit to get the hospital to do so.

The high court said in the ruling “that the termination of life-sustaining treatments is feasible considering all citizens’ rights to dignity under the constitution and self-determination.”

The court warned against abusing the ruling or taking it further and explained that it should only be applied in cases when a patient has no chance of recovery and medical treatment is only to maintain the brain-dead state.

“Human life is sublime and it must be treated with utmost care in any circumstances,” the high court said, according to an AFP report.

Severance Hospital, which appealed the lower district court’s decision, will now take the case on appeal to the South Korea Supreme Court.

Wesley J. Smith, an American bioethicist, says the woman in the case is "unconscious, not ‘brain dead,’" and challenged mainstream media reports to that effect.

"The issue is about whether life support can be removed from such people, not whether they can be actively killed. Sometimes life support is removed from people in a persistent vegetative state and they don’t die (unless that life support is food and fluids)," he added.

He previously criticized AFP for using misleading terms in its media reports on the case and calling it one concerning the so-called right to die.

"These issues are international and need a consistent use of language and terms," Smith says. "Otherwise, we will have chaos rather than informed and rational ethical debates."

"Indeed, the language of bioethics at the popular level is already so muddled by sloppy language, rank redefinition, and euphemistic argument (‘aid in dying’) that engaging these crucial issues in the public square is already near the point of futility," he concluded.

Sign Up for Free Pro-Life News From

Daily Pro-Life News Report Twice-Weekly Pro-Life
News Report
Receive a free daily email report from with the latest pro-life news stories on abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research. Sign up here. Receive a free twice-weekly email report with the latest pro-life news headlines on abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research. Sign up here.