Grandma Removed From Life Support Under Ruling
By Park Si-soo
A patient who has been on life support for more than a year was finally granted a ``death with dignity" Tuesday, becoming the nation's first to win the right to die peacefully.
Severance Hospital in Seoul disconnected 77-year-old grandmother Kim Ok-kyung's life support in the morning, ending a legal battle that was settled at the Supreme Court last month.
At 10 a.m., Kim was lying on a bed at the hospital with her mouth and nose clogged with ventilator and feeding tubes, her vital signs stable.
Her children, relatives, a pastor and medical staff, who have tended her bedside for 16 months while she lay comatose, began singing gospel songs in a tearful tone by her side.
Their voices trembling, they rounded up the 20-minute worship with a brief prayer to God.
At 10:21 a.m., Dr. Park Moo-seok took a deep breath and disconnected her ventilator.
The nation's first removal of life-support equipment from a person in a persistent vegetative state ― termed ``death with dignity'' where a physician assists death with certain restrictions, or passive euthanasia ― was put into practice.
It came one month after the Supreme Court upheld an appellate court ruling allowing Kim's family to remove the equipment from the patient, who had little chance of recovery. She lapsed into a coma in February last year after excessive bleeding caused by a botched endoscopy operation.
As of 4 p.m., Kim was still spontaneously breathing, Dr. Park Chang-il said.
A feeding tube and other medical treatment will continue to be provided because the top court's ruling only justified the removal of the ventilator.
The hospital will consider releasing Kim if she maintains her current status over a certain period of time.
``The intensive care unit is where life and death coexists. I once again pondered over the meaning of death through this case,'' Park said. ``We have removed the equipment to comply with the ruling. But `death with dignity' should be applied using strict guidelines.''
In the first ruling in Kim's case last November, Seoul Western District Court ordered the removal of feeding and ventilator tubes from the patient, accepting her children's claim that their mother had always opposed keeping people alive on machines when there was no chance of recovery.
An appellate court upheld the ruling, setting unprecedented guidelines for death with dignity.
The guidelines said that death with dignity could be allowed ``when the patient was in a terminally ill phase in which no medical treatment was feasible; when maintaining life was nothing but a death-like situation for the patient; when the patient has talked about such methods at length with consistency and sanity; and when doctors are involved in the decision making.''
Upon her death, the hospital plans to conduct a postmortem exam in preparation for a criminal suit Kim's family filed against the doctors they allege are responsible for the botched operation.