A pilot project began on Monday for a law that allows patients suffering from incurable diseases to refuse life-extending treatment.
Next February, the Hospice, Palliative Care and Life-sustaining Treatment Decision-making Act, known as the "well-dying law,” will go into full effect. The law enables patients whose likelihood of recovery is extremely small to forgo life-sustaining treatment.
Under the law, a patient can refuse CPR, hemodialysis, anticancer treatment, or to wear an artificial respirator after being assessed to be near death by their doctor and a second doctor who is an expert in the condition the patient is suffering from.
The pilot project will mainly involve creating and registering advance directives, and filling out and executing Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, or POLSTs.
Adults aged over 19, regardless of their current health condition, can receive a consultation and create a directive in advance on whether they wish to reject life-extending treatment if they become terminally ill in the future. The directive serves as a key document when the signatory is later medically assessed to be near death and does deny life-extending treatment.
Meanwhile, POLSTs are filled out by terminally-ill patients. People who are hospitalized without an advance directive can write out POLSTs through their doctors.
The advance directives and POLSTs written out during the pilot period will be officially registered in the POLST register system which will operate from next February. The documents will be recognized as valid.
A total of 13 hospitals and foundations nationwide are taking part in the trial implementation.
The Health and Welfare Ministry said the aim of the trial stage is to raise public awareness on the impending law.
A survey shows that only 15% of citizens, 33% of medical personnel and 37% of patients and their caregivers know about this law.
The trial period will also serve to uncover any potential problems so they can be fixed before the law is implemented.
The well-dying law is viewed as a step forward in terms of human rights as patients are allowed to die in dignity. However, efforts must be made to ensure the public doesn’t perceive the new law as taking death lightly.