Man charged with disconnecting respirator from ailing wife
By Kim Jong-chan
“I could not watch my wife suffering any longer from the pain. What I hoped was that she will go to heaven and breathe comfortably without a respirator,” a farmer in his 80s said.
His wife died after he disconnected the respirator. She had suffered from lung cancer for the past six years.
The 83-year-old man, only identified by his surname Shim, cut the respirator’s hose with a knife he carried on May 5 at Chonbuk National University Hospital’s intensive care unit as his 77-year-old wife, who was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer, lost consciousness. After a nurse at the hospital reported the incident to police, the man was apprehended at the scene.
During questioning next day, Shim shed tears. “I wanted to take her to my house as she remained in a vegetative state and suffered from pain. I could not help but (disconnect the respirator) as the hospital did not allow me to do it,” he was quoted as saying by a police officer.
She had received inpatient or outpatient treatment for lung cancer for the past years. She was hospitalized again on April 27. On May 4, she was moved to the hospital’s intensive care unit after undergoing cardiopulmonary resuscitation as her heart stopped beating. During this year alone, she was taken to the hospital by ambulance six times.
The couple lived in conjugal harmony. But Shim and other family members had hard times as they cared for her for a long time. Medical expenses for the wife snowballed. As a result, debts increased.
At the intensive care unit on May 5, Shim kept silent for a while, looking at his ailing wife. But he suddenly took out a knife. A son and other family members were beside the wife, but failed to prevent the husband from disconnecting the respirator.
Before the incident, the husband had an argument with hospital officials. Shim told them that he will have his wife discharge from the hospital. But they objected to it.
A spokesman of the hospital recalled that in 2001, a doctor of the Boramae Hospital in Seoul discharged a patient, who allegedly had no chance of being revived, from the hospital. But the doctor was found guilty of assisting a murder.
During questioning, Shim said he thought it was better for his wife to die comfortably than prolong her life artificially since there was no chance of revival. “This was my last gift for her.”
Police indicted the husband on charges of murder without detention in consideration of his old age. The incident is expected to reignite debate on the issue of death with dignity. In 2008, family members of a 76-year-old woman filed with the authorities a lawsuit, urging Yonsei University’s Severance Hospital to remove equipment to prolong her life from the woman who was in a vegetative state. The family won the lawsuit.