SEOUL, Feb 10, 2009 (AFP) - A South Korean appeal court on Tuesday upheld a landmark ruling authorising the country's first legal mercy killing.
The Seoul High Court allowed the termination of life-sustaining treatment for a 76-year-old woman who has been brain-dead for a year, although it cannot yet be carried out pending an appeal by the hospital caring for her.
A lower court in December approved a request by the woman's children for the removal of a life support system, saying she has no chance of recovery and her wish to die can be inferred.
The high court said in a ruling "that the termination of life-sustaining treatments is feasible considering all citizens' rights to dignity under the constitution and self-determination."
It warned, however, against the abuse of the ruling in other cases. "Human life is sublime and it must be treated with utmost care in any circumstances," the high court said.
It said that its ruling should apply only when a patient has no chance of recovery and medical treatment is limited to maintaining his or her brain-dead state.
A lower court in November had allowed the brain-dead woman to be taken off feeding and ventilator tubes at the request of her children, but the Severance Hospital had appealed.
The hospital said Tuesday it would now take the case to the Supreme Court.
Hospital authorities noted that in 2004 doctors were charged with aiding murder after they removed life support systems from a brain-dead patient on a request from relatives.
In 2007 a father was given a four-year suspended jail term for the removal of a respirator from his brain-dead son.
The woman in the present case was declared brain-dead in February last year after she sustained brain damage and fell into a coma while undergoing a lung examination.
Three months later her children filed a court petition after the hospital rejected their request that she be allowed to die in peace and with dignity.
The family claimed that extending life using medical devices would prolong her "painful and meaningless" existence.