Acceptance, Modification and Rejection of Paternalism in Korean Medical Law

Shawn H. E. Harmon, Na-Kyoung Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This article analyzes two leading Korean cases which led to opposite conclusions: the Boramae Hospital Case (Korean Supreme Court 2002 Do 995) and the Shinchon Severance Hospital Case (Korean Supreme Court 2009 Da 17471). In doing so, it pays particular attention to the acceptance, modification, and rejection of paternalism, specifically 'physician paternalism' and 'familial paternalism', both of which have long and strongly influenced the Korean medical environment. In Boramae Hospital the Court emphasized the obligation of the physician in terms of the life of the patient (eg: protecting and preserving the life and welfare of the patient). Its position seemed to be based on the traditional physician paternalism which presupposes the ability of physicians to identify right and wrong choices according to natural laws. However, the Court saw itself as the final arbiter of who identifies and determines the real world content and consequences of that natural law. In short, the Court elevated itself to the supreme guardian of the patient, and held that its decision cannot be overruled by that of the patient's family. So without specifically referring to the importance of the family and the role of familial decisions, both long-observed traditions in medical decision-making in Korea, the Court shifted away from familial paternalism. In Shinchon Severance Hospital, the Court explained the meaning of the patient's powers of self-rulemore concretely, explaining its scope and substance in greater detail. The Court held that one can exercise the right of self-rule, even over issues such as death, in the form of 'previous medical directions'. However, this case does not represent a wholesale acceptance of medical autonomy (ie: it does not accept self-rule unconditionally). Rather, the Court accepted the importance of the opinions and decision of physicians and of the Hospital Ethics Commission, and the Court still retained to itself the authority to review and make alterations to 'material' decision. The Court did not overlook the importance of the decision of the patient's family, but it also did not relinquish its status as supreme guardian, emphasizing the 'objective' nature of a decision from the court.
Original languageOther
Pages (from-to)143-154
Number of pages12
JournalBalsaeng'gwa saengsig
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • physician paternalism
  • familial decisions
  • medical autonomy
  • powers of self-rulemore
  • Hospital Ethics Commission

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