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53,900 opt out of life-prolonging treatment since adoption of Death with Dignity Act

A year and five months since the enactment of Death with Dignity Act, nearly 54,000 have decided to opt out of life-prolonging treatments, according to government data.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said Wednesday the number of individuals who either withheld or withdrew from receiving life-prolonging treatment totaled 53,900 as of June 30. The end-of-life care legislation allowing terminally ill patients to abandon life-prolonging medical care went into effect on Feb. 4, 2018.

Life-prolonging treatment refers to medical procedures that delay the process of dying with no significant chance of resulting in recovery from or alleviation of suffering.


In addition to four treatments categorized as life prolonging measures -- CPR, artificial ventilation, hemodialysis and chemotherapy -- the ministry expanded the scope in March to include procedures such as extracorporeal life support, transfusion and vasopressor therapy.

Terminally ill patients can withhold or withdraw consent for receiving life-prolonging treatment through a written statement.

In cases where the patient lacks the capacity to make a decision, two or more family members can testify that the patient would not wish to prolong treatment on his or her behalf. Suspension of life-prolonging treatment for patients in an incapacitated state requires consent by all members of the patient’s family.

As of end-June, 67.1 percent of all withheld or withdrawn life-prolonging treatments had been decided by the patient’s family.

Only 1 percent of the cases involved patients who had decided to refuse or halt treatment in advance through a letter of intent, with the remaining 31.9 percent comprising patients who made the decision mid-treatment.

Under the law, any individual aged 19 or older, regardless of their medical condition, can submit a letter of intent on life-prolonging treatment at a designated facility.

Over 250,000 people have submitted their written intent thus far. Women accounted for 70 percent of total submitters, at 179,056, a number greatly exceeding that of men, at 76,969.

By Kim Arin (