Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Medical legal issues in Episodes 11 & 12

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When writing my reviews for both episodes, there were issues I wanted to write about that couldn’t quite fit into the review, hence I’m dedicating this post to talk about some other issues I found interesting in both episodes, and these pertain mainly to the role of doctor and legal issues.

1. The power of doctors over life and death

While the show seems to be repeating the message that doctors should just focus on doing their best and not take issues of life and death into their own hands, I’ve found repeatedly that this message is also being questioned and challenged. The time of death stated on a patient requiring resuscitation is in fact within the doctors’ hands and in fact, it signifies the time that the doctor decides it’s no longer worth it to stop trying. We’ve seen this happen many times in the series, but in episode 12, Dong Joo’s decision to stop resuscitating Private Park was so much more significant also because of the ethical dilemma he was placed in. Not only does doctor have power over the time of death, but he also has authority over stating the cause of death. Even high ranking army officials or President Do had no power over the operating doctor who was Dong Joo in this situation – they can encourage and strongly persuade him, but ultimately, he is the one who makes the decision to sign it.

In fact, when reading up further, I realised that this is a current issue being debated in Korea right now, in this article “Row rises over doctor’s power on death certificate“. A farmer who had been blasted by a policeman’s water cannon died, but the policeman got away scot-free because the doctor proclaimed that the man’s death was cardiopulmonary arrest. What’s interesting also is that the respect for the farmer’s doctor’s discretion is rooted not in law, but in custom in Korea.

2. Authority over patients and Interference with medical treatment

I certainly enjoyed the very “meaty” conversation between Master Kim and the army officials when they came to take away Private Park’s body because legal terms kept being thrown about as a means to convey authority.

First, they came in to read him his Miranda rights (i.e. the right to remain silence) while he’s unconscious; technically it was not wrong for them to read it to an unconscious person as a mere formality. However, if an interrogation were to take place, then the person would need to be conscious to understand it, so that the statement can be legally effective. In this case, it was clear that the army officials knew that no interrogation would be happening and thus only wanted to use this as a means to assert their authority and control over him.

While the army officials assert control over Private Park, in actual fact, he is under the control of the hospital because he’s already given consent to them for the treatment when he was conscious. Based on my brief reading up of medical law, this falls under the “non-delegable duty of care” of hospitals, which imposes on hospitals or healthcare professionals an obligation to employ adequate amount of professionals, using operational and safe equipment and ensure the patients are not exposed to undue risk (Essentials of Law for Medical Professionals, Forrester & Griffiths: 136). By virtue of the fact that he is within a hospital, Private Park is thus under their control until the point where they determine adequate amount of care has been provided.

The final legal term introduced is “obstruction with medical treatment”. While I can’t find the exact laws in Korea about it, based on what I did manage to read it from other websites, it is the:

intentional and willful interference with a physician, physician’s trained assistant, nurse, nurse’s aide, paramedic, emergency medical technician, or other medical or hospital personnel in the performance of their duties relating to the care and treatment of patients in any hospital, clinic, other medical facility, or at the scene of a medical emergency.  (Taken from 2006 Louisiana Laws)

Such an offence is punishable by fines, imprisonment or both. Basically, within the space of the hospital, the doctor overseeing the case makes the final call and just reading all this makes me realise what a stressful and heavy responsibility was placed on such a young doctor like Dong Joo. It makes me admire him all the more for this situation because it was not just a difficult surgery, but such a complicated legal web that he was caught in.

3. Drunk-driving laws

Upon doing more reading, it amazes me that the show explores not just any medical issues, but very current, debated medical issues in Korea. The issue of drunk-driving is a heated one in Korea, with recent debates on whether to lower the tolerance level. The current level permissible is 0.05, which makes me realise that the 0.18 level that the drivers had was way over the limits.

The whole issue begins with Seo-jung being possibly charged by breaking the law without getting his consent in a written format. However, she says that he did give her his consent in verbal form. The Miranda rights must also be read to a person before the breath-analyser or blood test is administered, and he has the right to refuse the test due to justifiable reasons (info obtained from klawguru.com).

I was actually rewatching the sequence from episode 10 and I noted the drunk driver actually refused to comply with the breath analyser test and only agreed to take a blood test at the police station. However, Seo Jung intelligently twists the situations and reads it as him agreeing to take a blood test and even protects herself by saying, “Really, if that’s what you want, then we’ll do it then.” She proceeds to administer the blood test and the camera shows us every step she takes to highlight that he could have resisted at any point, but he didn’t. As such, she did get his consent and is thus protected from the law.

Reading up more on this really makes me impressed at the level of detail the show goes into in constructing realistic medical scenarios both in terms of the surgical and medical process, but also the legal processes and aspects. As I am no legal expert, I may have misinterpreted or inaccurately represented the laws, hence if anyone knows better, please feel free to correct me and I’ll make relevant edits. Thanks!

7 thoughts on “Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Medical legal issues in Episodes 11 & 12

  1. gracesflowers
    gracesflowers December 15, 2016 / 12:15 am

    You have really gone above and beyond in thoughtfully researching medical law as it affects the drama’s scenarios, doctors, admin and story line! Thank you for doing the work for us! This results in my enjoying this at a deeper level than I normally would.

  2. mantigames – Hoa Kỳ – Mantigames.coml! We brings you a large collection of the best & latest online games Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mantigames/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mantigames Follow us on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mantigames/
    Eliz December 15, 2016 / 9:37 am

    So dedicated of you to research & represent these medical fields, I’m impressed at the depth level of your observation on each scenes.
    Your post is very informative so that I find the intention of the story more interesting & makes more sense to me.
    Thanks so much!

  3. heroonthebeach
    heroonthebeach December 15, 2016 / 10:17 am

    Hey Eliz, you’re welcome! Legal issues have always fascinated me – I’m glad you found the post interesting!

  4. kasmic3
    Kasmic December 15, 2016 / 11:43 am

    Thanx for the research about these medical legal issues raised in this drama. Just a question though which I couldnt get a clear answer in the drama. The case of verbal vs written consent of taking the blood sample. I always thought verbal consent is legally valid as the written form. How was the drunken driver’s lawyer able to refute this? is this law different in Korea?

  5. heroonthebeach
    heroonthebeach December 15, 2016 / 6:03 pm

    Hey kasmic, not sure of this as I haven’t done research. However, I believe the drunken driver’s lawyer was just trying to twist the law and insisting that there’s no evidence that consent was given. Given that it was verbal, it would have just been the guy’s word against Seo-jung’s. However, I believe if lawyer intended to take the case further, Seo-jung would have won as she would have the policemen on site to testify for her. To me, it seemed like the drunken driver’s mum was just trying whatever she could to get her son scotfree.

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