A South Korean hospital has removed a life-support system from a comatose patient, upholding a court ruling which had approved a euthanasia request for the first time in the country.
A spokesman for Seoul's Severance Hospital told AFP it removed a respirator from a 76-year-old woman mid-morning but it would take some time for the patient to be pronounced dead.
Hospital doctor Park Moo-Seok removed the respirator after her family said a brief prayer at the patient's bedside.
"Now I have mixed feelings," Park told Yonhap news agency. "But I hope she will rest peacefully in the bosom of God."
Last month the supreme court, upholding a lower court decision, supported a request by the woman's family that she be allowed to die with dignity.
Under current law the removal of a respirator from a brain-dead patient is officially regarded as murder. But the family had said extending life using medical devices would prolong the woman's "painful and meaningless" existence.
The woman was declared brain-dead in February last year after she sustained brain damage and fell into a coma while undergoing a lung examination at the hospital.
Three months later her children filed a court petition after the hospital rejected their request that she be allowed to die in peace and with dignity.
A court last November approved their request for removal of a life support system, saying she had no chance of recovery and her wish to die could be inferred.
An appeal court upheld that decision in February but the hospital took the case to the top court.
The supreme court in its May ruling said the termination of life-sustaining treatments required "careful judgement."
However treatment can be stopped, it said, by making a presumption about the wish of the patient. Maintaining a brain-dead state in a patient damaged "human dignity" when there was no chance of recovery.
In the current case, it said, the woman had told her family she did not want to be kept alive artificially if any problem arose with her hospital treatment.
Local religious communities have been split on the subject of euthanasia. Activists have warned against abuse of the ruling. Some Koreans still oppose mercy killing because of deep-rooted Confucianist beliefs.
The Korea Medical Association called for a new law to prevent abuse of the landmark ruling.
"From now we must work out new rules which are generally acceptable in our society," spokesman Choa Hun-Jong told reporters.
In 2007 a father was given a four-year suspended jail term for removing a respirator from his brain-dead son.