Death With Dignity Family to File 2nd Lawsuit
By Park Si-soo
The family of a 77-year-old woman in a vegetative state, whose life support was removed Tuesday, plans to file a compensation suit against the Severance Hospital in Seoul for ``excessive medical treatment'' given to her, the family's lawyer said Wednesday.
Kim Ok-kyung, a grandmother, is still spontaneously breathing after her ventilator was removed at 10:21 a.m. Tuesday. Other vital signs are also stable, the hospital said.
Lawyer Shin Hyun-ho said, ``She is still alive despite the removal of the ventilator tube, meaning she has been capable of breathing on her own. But she had the tube inserted for the last 16 months, which amounts to excessive treatment.'' Her teeth were broken while installing the tube, he added.
This will be the family's second lawsuit against the hospital. One of Kim's sons has already sued two Severance doctors for ``mistakes'' made during an endoscopy procedure that put her in a comatose state in February last year.
Kim's apparently longer-than-expected survival is touching off controversy over the appropriateness of the Supreme Court ruling on the removal of her respirator, as it was based on the assumption that the 77-year-old was depending on it to breathe.
There is a growing public view that legislation should be sought to set out specific guidelines and criteria for 'death with dignity' or passive euthanasia.
``We don't rule out the possibility that this situation will continue for sometime,'' said Dr. Park Chang-il, president of the hospital.
The hospital said it will continue to care for Kim as long as she is breathing through providing nutrition and water.
Following the court ruling last month, the hospital declared a self-designed guideline to screen those eligible for death with dignity and non-resuscitation.
``Kim has been spontaneously breathing for more than a day. This indicates she could remain in a vegetative status without outside support. If this continues, obviously she was already outside the guidelines,'' Park said.
``The absence of clear guidelines is to be blamed for the controversy,'' Dr. Jwa Hoon-jung, spokesman for Korean Medical Association (KMA). ``We obviously need to create objective and medically competent guidelines.''
Two lawmaker-drafted bills on this were submitted to the National Assembly following the top court's ruling.
A bill drafted by Rep. Shin Sang-jin of the ruling Grand National Party aims at widening the scope of death with dignity, while the other bill submitted by Rep. Kim Se-yeon, also of the GNP, is to toughen the screening process. The two bills are likely to be discussed during a regular session in September.
The medical sector is also working to establish guidelines. The KMA, Korean Academy of Medical Science and the Korean Hospital Association recently joined forces to decide measures that are practical and applicable to most cases.