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South Korea: Pilot Program Started for the Well-Dying Law

(Nov. 8, 2017) On October 23, 2017, a pilot program for the Hospice, Palliative Care, and Life-Sustaining Treatment Decision-Making Act, known as the “Well-Dying Law,” was implemented. (Act No. 14013 (Feb. 3, 2016), Korea Ministry of Government Legislation website (in Korean).)  The pilot program ends on January 15, 2018, and the Law will go into full effect in February 2018. (Korea Introduced “Death with Dignity” Law That Has Also Been Discussed in Japan, RECORD CHINA (Oct. 25, 2017) (in Japanese).)

The Law will enable patients to refuse cardiopulmonary resuscitation, hemodialysis, or anticancer treatment or to wear an artificial respirator after being assessed to be near death by their primary doctors and second doctors who are experts in the condition from which the patient is suffering. (Well-Dying Law, art. 2¶ 4 & arts. 15 & 16.)

The Health and Welfare Ministry said the aim of the pilot program is to raise public awareness of the impending Law. The program also serves to uncover any potential problems so that they can be fixed before the Law is implemented. A total of 13 hospitals and foundations nationwide are taking part in the trial implementation. (Trial Implementation of Well-Dying Law Begins, KBS WORLD RADIO (Oct. 29, 2017).)

Situations Permitting Non-Continuation of Life-Extending Treatment 

The Well-Dying Law allows rejection of life-extending treatment when a terminally ill patient:

  • has created a Life-Sustaining Treatment Plan with his/her doctors at a medical institution;
  • has an Advance Medical Directive (AMD) and his/her doctor confirm the contents with him/her;
  • has an AMD, but currently does not have full capacity to confirm the AMD, but his/her primary doctor and another doctor who is an expert in the field confirm that the AMD was properly drawn up;
  • is not in a condition to express his/her will, but his/her primary doctor and another doctor who is an expert in the field confirm that two or more family members of the patient have stated that the patient had consistently expressed his/her will to reject life-extending treatment, and there is no evidence to contradict it;
  • is under 19 years of age and is not in s condition to express his/her will, and the patient’s primary doctor and another doctor who is an expert in the field confirm that the person’s custodian has decided to reject life-extending treatment; or
  • is 19 years of age or older and is not in a condition to express his/her will, and the patient’s primary doctor and another doctor who is an expert in the field confirm that all of the person’s family members agreed to reject life-extending treatment. (Well-Dying Law, arts. 17 & 18.)

Under the pilot program, adults over 19 years of age, regardless of their current health condition, can receive a consultation and create an AMD on rejection of life-extending treatment for when they become terminally ill in the future. In addition, people who are hospitalized can create Life-Sustaining Treatment Plan with their doctors. The AMDs and Treatment Plans that are created during the pilot period are registered in the recordation system that will operate throughout the country from next February. (Trial Implementation of Well-Dying Law Begins, supra.)