Seoul, doctors pull the plug on a woman in a coma. First case of 'passive euthanasia'

Seoul, South Korea - The Yonsei Severance Hospital in Seoul has removed the artificial respirator that kept alive a woman of 77 years, known as Kim, who has been in a comatose state since February 2008 following a haemorrhage caused by unsuccessful lung surgery. It is the first case of "mercy killing” in South Korea. Doctors carried out the ruling passed last May 21 by the Supreme Court, following a long legal battle between relatives of the woman and the clinic.

At 10:24 this morning (local time) Professor Park Moo-seok removed the power supply and the artificial respirator that kept the patient alive, the woman (in the photo published by the South Korean Yonhap News) has been transferred from 'intensive care unit in a department of general medicine and is being assisted by close relatives. After the declaration of death, which will take place in a matter of hours, Kim will be subjected to an autopsy. Family members have also initiated a civil case against the hospital which performed the operation.

The first case of "passive euthanasia" in South Korea is the result of a dispute lasting over a year. The ruling, made by the judge’s, states that Kim has "entered into an irrevocable state" from which "recovery" is "impossible". It adds that "death is imminent without the help of a respirator" and that an extension of the therapy could "harm the dignity of the patient" and be contrary "to her will."

The case has aroused strong controversy across the country. The Catholic Church has Come out in defence of life, stressing that the Court's decision is a sign of the degradation of human life "which is regarded as an object." Lee Hoi-chang, a 74 year-old Korean Catholic politician, spoke of "ambiguities" in the judges decision, saying that "the condition of terminally ill patients does not mean death" and "dying with dignity" means only "putting an end to human life” or, in other words," euthanasia”.