Korean Patients Favor Hastening Death

South Koreans support providing cancer patients comfort as nature takes its course

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Just days before physician-assisted suicide advocate Dr. Jack Kavorkian died, a new study reported that many South Koreans favor speeding the death of terminally ill cancer patients.

In America, we offer palliative care that focuses on providing comfort to someone who is dying. Such care is rare in South Korea, but most people are receptive to the concept.

"Most people in South Korea believe in end-of-life euthanasia and palliative care."

Korean researchers found that most people do not favor continuing futile treatments for cancer patients who are dying. Instead, they would like patients to receive medication to ease suffering while life-sustaining measures are withdrawn. Patients and members of the general public who were surveyed also supported speeding the dying process through active euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide.

The study conducted by the National Cancer Center in Goyang, Korea was designed to measure attitudes about several end-of-life care interventions. Researchers surveyed a total of 3,840 people. Those surveyed fell into four groups: 1242 cancer patients, 1289 family caregivers, 303 oncologists from across the country and 1006 ordinary citizens.

Individuals were asked their attitudes about five end-of-life interventions - 1) withdrawal of futile life-sustaining treatments; 2) active pain control; 3) withholding of life-sustaining measures; 4) euthanasia and 5) physician-assisted suicide.

Dr. Young Ho Yun of the National Cancer Center and coauthors found that patients, caregivers, oncologists and members of the general population favored withdrawing both life-sustaining treatments and measures and providing active pain control.

The authors wrote that without a good system of providing palliative (comfort-focused) care, it was not surprising that most of those surveyed favored a path that avoided prolonging suffering.

The general public and patients favored speeding the dying process with active euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. Family caregivers and oncologists were generally opposed to these last two options.

Factors such as age, sex and religious beliefs were associated with the acceptance of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia.

In South Korea, palliative care is not common. Oncologists and family physicians provide medical care in institutions.

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Review Date: 
June 3, 2011
Last Updated:
June 7, 2011