The Korea Herald


2m Koreans opt out of life-extending treatments

By Lee Jaeeun

Published : Sept. 24, 2023 - 13:29

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Nearly two million individuals in Korea have formally declined life-extending medical interventions, choosing instead to prioritize their right to die with dignity when suffering from a terminal condition, data showed Sunday.

Data from the National Agency for Management of Life-Sustaining Treatment reveals that as of the end of August, 1,941,231 people have filed an advance health care directive to abstain from life-saving medical assistance since the system's inception in February 2018.

Women make up the majority of individuals opting for this choice, accounting for 68 percent, or 1,319,812, of those registered, with men accounting for the remaining 32 percent, or 621,419.

Less than 100,000 people registered for the health care directive in 2018. However, the number surged to 530,000 in 2019, 790,000 in 2020, 1,160,000 in 2021 and 1,570,000 in 2022.

Judging from the current monthly growth rate, the number is projected to exceed two million in October.

Five and half years have passed since the so-called "Death with Dignity Act" came into effect in Korea in February 2018. The act enabled people to refuse life-prolonging medical treatment.

Any adult over the age of 19 can register for the advance medical directive detailing treatment plans in the case of terminal illness, which they can also withdraw from at any time.

The necessary documents can be submitted to the National Agency for Management of Life-Sustaining Treatment, and the information will then be registered in a government database shared by hospitals and public health institutions. Life-sustaining treatment can be halted under several conditions if an individual falls terminally ill. The requirements include confirmation by a family member, approval from the ethics committee at a medical institution, and the agreement of the patient’s primary doctor and another doctor who is an expert in the field.

Currently, four types of treatment -- cardiopulmonary resuscitation, use of artificial respiration, hemodialysis and administration of anti-cancer drugs -- are categorized as life-extension care by the government.