Barriers to Informed Refusal in Korea


  • Claire Junga Kim Department of Medical Humanities, Dong-A University College of Medicine


In South Korea, the legal and cultural environment keeps terminally ill patients from making an informed refusal to a treatment the discontinuation of which can cause death. Act on Decisions on Life-Sustaining Treatment for Patients in Hospice and Palliative Care or at the End of Life allows several forms of informed refusal, but it is not enough. There is no explicit guarantee, at least under this law, of the right to refuse a treatment given during a period that has not reached an end-of-life process prescribed in the law. Dori (道理), which the family of a terminal patient feels obligated to follow, makes them commit to doing what they believe is right as a family member without asking the patient’s intention. Because it reduces the family’s motivation to have a difficult talk about death and end-of-life with the patient, the patient is deprived of an opportunity to make a decision based on accurate information. In making a decision for the patient while patient is excluded, the family often ends up choosing a safe decision that puts physical survival first. In conclusion, the culture and the culturally influenced law are making it impractical for terminal patients to make an informed refusal.


treatment refusal, informed refusal, terminal patients, terminal care, life-sustaining treatment