“I was a nurse. When I worked in the internal medicine ward, I often saw terminal cancer patients in pain because they couldn’t control their pain even with narcotic analgesics. After I became a patient, I was afraid of dying in Korea.”
Lee So-yeon (41, alias) has been fighting chronic myelogenous leukemia for 13 years. He decided to join Dignitas in November 2021 when his cancer levels suddenly increased. When he is in an acute or terminal stage when the cure does not work, he will go to Switzerland for an assisted death.
The reason Lee, who was once a nurse, decided to choose euthanasia instead of a hospital at the last moment was “because she knows very well that hospitals cannot alleviate patients’ pain.” Lee’s husband, who works as a doctor at a nursing hospital, also said he understands this situation better than anyone else.
“Even if the patient complains of pain enough to ask to be killed quickly, there is a limit to the use of painkillers in hospitals because they fear that the patient will lose consciousness. No matter how much pain is controlled, the patient is not able to cope with the pain.”
Mr. Lee, who we met at his home in Waegwan, North Gyeongsang Province in February, said firmly, “There is no one who has ever seen it in the medical world and will ask, ‘Why did you make that choice?'” He himself was diagnosed with leukemia and struggled with the disease for 10 years, experiencing such pain from time to time.
In the winter of 2010, Mr. Lee slipped and hit his butt in the company hallway. She thought she had a slight fall, but the black bruises didn’t go away. She did a blood test at the hospital and said her white blood cell count was abnormal.
She visited two large hospitals in Seoul and tested them, and found that he had leukemia. Fortunately, thanks to the development of an innovative targeted anti-cancer drug called ‘Gleevec’ in the 2000s, long-term survival is possible if managed well.
However, the increased survival rate did not ease the pain and fear. The side effects of the medicine were so severe that it was difficult to live a daily life, and sometimes I had to face severe pain that made me want to trade it for death. I was so tired that I usually had to lie down all day.
Mr. Lee said, “I am an outgoing and outgoing person, so I liked meeting people and playing outside. He said that he had not been able to sleep properly since two days ago.
The first drug I used after being diagnosed with leukemia was Gleevec. This drug was called a miracle cure that saved countless leukemia patients, but it had side effects of thinning the skin and organs. Muscles were easily ruptured and ligaments were stretched even with a small stimulus. Ovulation led to bleeding, so she had to take birth control pills for the rest of her life after undergoing surgery to rupture an ovarian cyst twice.
Mr. Lee said, “I felt like I became the main character in the movie ‘Glass,’ which breaks like glass when you bump into something lightly.”
The job seemed less strenuous, so he moved to an elementary school health instructor, but by 2016, he had no choice but to quit altogether. The diarrhea that came five or six times a day made it difficult to go out. One day, while attending a vocational academy to try a new job, she had diarrhea when she arrived at the academy and was about to greet the instructor.
“I screamed because I came out without a signal. Fortunately, I was wearing pads, so I was able to prevent the disaster, but I was so surprised that I couldn’t control myself. Around that time, after going through the tunnel, I was spinning round and round and getting dizzy. I have a panic disorder.”
As the side effects of Gleevec reached their limits, Lee switched to his second anti-cancer drug, ‘Tasigna’ in 2019. This time, his cholesterol level increased and he developed gallstones.
Eventually, in March of last year, he underwent cholecystectomy. It was his third surgery. He said, “The moment I woke up after the surgery, it hurt so much that I thought I wanted to die. Even though he says the pain is 10 out of 10, I still get angry when I think of my doctor who just told me to put up with it as if he were treating a patient with mild symptoms.”
I have been fighting cancer for over a decade, resisting and adapting whenever new side effects appear, but in the fall of 2021, regular follow-up tests showed that cancer levels had risen. It was said that anticancer drugs did not work. If you develop resistance to the drug or if the side effects become severe, you have to switch to the third drug, and from this point on, you should also consider bone marrow transplant.
Fortunately, it was confirmed that there was an error in the test results, but Lee decided to join Dignitas, which he had thought about for a long time. He saw that he had to prepare for the impending death before it was too late. He initially decided not to do a bone marrow transplant. He no longer has the confidence to bear the side effects.
“After a bone marrow transplant, you lose at least one thing in your body. Some people go blind, and the host reaction can damage the lungs or intestines. A person I know relapsed after a bone marrow transplant and had three transplants. If I’m in good shape and it’s my first time, I’ll try it, but now I know what kind of pain I’m going to go through.”
At the final stage, he told his husband and sister that he would choose euthanasia instead of a bone marrow transplant. Mr. Lee’s ‘bucket list’ (what he wants to do before he dies) is ‘to die well’.
“After I was diagnosed for the first time, I did everything I could so that I did not regret it. Now I want to prepare for the predicted death. I hope you don’t suddenly die of corona or pneumonia, and I hope you have the stamina to go to Switzerland safely in the end.”
“When chemotherapy is continued, it is expected to last about 15 months.”
In January 2020, Choi Su-jin (52, pseudonym) was not very shaken by the doctor’s words of a terminal sentence. All he could think of was his mother, who was lying unconscious in the intensive care unit at the hospital. Her mother, who suddenly collapsed, had been wearing medical devices that she would never normally do for two months. ‘Put this away.’ It would be nice if her mother could at least talk. He and her siblings couldn’t let her mother go, even though she knew it would be hard for her to wake up again.
In the meantime, Choi discovered that there were tumors next to her right kidney during a routine gynecological examination she received once or twice a year. The result of surgery and biopsy was sarcoma carcinoma. Sarcoma, which is not even known, was a rare cancer that accounted for only about 1% of malignant tumors. It was stage 4, which had already spread around organs such as the large intestine, vena cava, and peritoneum.
The doctor said that it is a disease that does not respond well to chemotherapy, but he said that chemotherapy should be given because it is difficult to completely remove the sarcoma with surgery. He sought a larger hospital in Seoul, but the results were not much different.
“Can I get better with chemo?”
To Mr. Choi’s question, the doctor answered with a difficult word, ‘palliative anti-cancer’. Since the treatment phase has already passed, it meant that the survival time should be increased by slowing the progression of cancer.
“Then, will I be able to work while undergoing chemotherapy?”
This is because I have seen cases where the body deteriorates due to physical exhaustion and side effects while receiving chemotherapy. Mr. Choi thought that it would be okay if he lived as usual, but if he had to quit the company, he would become a real terminal patient. He had returned to work after undergoing surgery without paying sick leave, as he did not like to hear stories from people around him.
The doctor said, “We need to focus on chemotherapy,” and added, as if cautioning, “there is no one who does not do chemotherapy in this situation.”
Upon returning home, Mr. Choi wrote a letter to the attending physician ahead of the next treatment day. His mind was already leaning toward not going through chemo. This is because he wanted to spend a year and a half, which is not long, ‘like me’. However, he was terribly burdened to tell the doctor that he would not do chemo. He wanted to continue going to the hospital to check and manage his health, but when he said he would not undergo chemotherapy, it seemed as if he would give up treatment without listening to the doctor. In addition, the treatment time of less than 3 minutes was too short to fully convey this meaning. He wrote a one-page A4 letter and had it arrive before the clinic day.
He said, ‘I don’t want to do chemo. It’s because I don’t want to live my short life without being able to live my daily life properly. The survival period can be shortened to less than a year, and there is a possibility that it will enter a critical state within a few months, but from now on, I will fill it with a meaningful schedule and plan not to spend it in vain… .’
One concern for Choi was that when the last moment came, there was no other option other than the hospital. He suddenly remembered ‘euthanasia’, which he had been thinking about and talking about in the distant future with his friends. He found and joined a Swiss assisted suicide organization with difficulty, and prepared the necessary procedures and documents.
I met Mr. Choi in Gyeonggi-do last January. It was at this point three years after he was diagnosed with a terminal illness with less than a year and a half to live. Her mother died shortly after Choi was diagnosed. Recalling that time, he said, “It was very difficult to send my mother away when I was not ready mentally, but at least I thought it was fortunate that I had time to prepare.”
Contrary to the hospital’s prediction, Mr. Choi continued his work and daily life without chemotherapy. He said that cancer cells were pressing on the ureter, so he was in good health with no pain other than a stent to expand it. As for the reason he did not choose chemotherapy, he explained, “It was not a treatment that cured the disease, but only prolonged the bad period that I was worried about.” At the same time, he expressed regret about the lack of options given to terminally ill patients, saying, “I don’t understand why they recommend anticancer, saying that anticancer does not work well.”
For Choi, it was important to maintain a normal life for as long as possible. More than anything he wanted to avoid being in a state where he couldn’t get his way, he said. These thoughts were reinforced after spending his last three months in the intensive care unit and seeing his dying mother.
Mr. Choi said that when he prepares to go to Switzerland, he will document the journey without omission.
“I can’t imagine how envious the people of a country that legalized helpers are in a situation where they have to go through complicated and difficult procedures to prepare for the end of their lives in a faraway country. Whether successful or unsuccessful, I hope that the record I will leave behind will be of some help to other patients in Korea who will go through the same difficulties as I did.”
“I heard that more than 30 people around me (people with the same disease) had committed suicide. At some point, I thought I should save these people rather than trauma.”
Kim Kyung-tae (43) has been suffering from complex regional pain syndrome ( CRPS ) for 11 years. CRPS is a chronic disease in which severe neuropathic pain continues after a specific area is injured. It is a rare disease in which patients feel pain to the point of losing consciousness even though they appear healthy on the outside. Diagnosis and treatment are difficult because the cause is not clear.
Kim’s pain began in May 2013 after he injured his left arm in a bicycle accident. His pain, which came suddenly, was hot, “as if he had put his hand on a gas stove fire.” Even after that, he collapsed unconscious from the pain that rushed in from time to time. Later, he tore every bit of his fingernails and toenails to bear the pain.
Only 24 pills Kim takes a day to relieve his pain. It includes narcotic analgesics such as morphine and oxycodone, as well as tranquilizers and muscle relaxants. He expressed, “I feel like I am being tortured living day by day.”
It was for that reason that Mr. Kim knocked on the door of Dignitas. He appeared on a broadcast entertainment program in 2019 and revealed that he was thinking about euthanasia, and since then he has been openly arguing for the introduction of assisted death on broadcasts and YouTube.
He also submitted a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission, asking, “What should we do for people who are not on the brink of death but feel extreme pain?”
“No matter how much I think about it, there is no way to escape the pain. When there is no other alternative, we need to make sure that the help of 메이저사이트euthanasia is available. Korea calls it well-dying, but in reality, everyone is avoiding it.”
In December 2021, Mr. Kim applied for assisted dying from Dignitas and received a ‘green light’ (approval). And while he was planning to go to Switzerland in February of last year, he said that assisted dying was put on hold at the doctor’s recommendation that ‘a new drug is being developed, so let’s put up with it for three more years’.
It is said that when he was given his last option, he paradoxically made the best of life. This is also a point that Dignitas members talk about in common.
Mr. Kim got his realtor license and started his own business. He is also steadily learning Muay Thai to improve his stamina.
“After designing a plan for how you will die, you can do your best every day more fruitfully. I’m just trying to show that.”