Korean society is restless these days. Murder cases are reported every few days, and all types of crime dominate the news. Of the countless cases, the Gangseo-gu Internet café (PC Bang) murder case has without a doubt received the most attention from the media and the public. Not only was the murder itself despicable, but outrage has grown regarding the possibility that the murderer’s sentence will be reduced because he is “feeble-minded” and suffers from depression. Meanwhile, a Facebook post regarding the case brought another debate to the surface.
On October 19, Doctor NamKoong Ihn of Ehwa Womans University Medical Center (EUMC) wrote a lengthy post on his Facebook page. As the attending physician of the victim, he described the moment when he first encountered his patient covered with blood as when he gasped his life away. He wrote that the depth of the wounds meant that the assailant was determined to penetrate the victim deeply deeply, and that about 40 blood packs were injected into the victim over a short period of time. Not only was the doctor’s post read by many Facebook users, but it was also featured by several official media outlets. The post received about 70,000 comments and was shared by 43,000 people.
The facts indicating how seriously the victim was injured amplified public anger towards the assailant and sympathy for the innocent young victim. “I hope my post becomes a chance to establish the facts about the case in the face of incorrect speculation and to prevent any reoccurrences,” NamKoong stated. As intended, his article revealed the cruelty of the assailant and reignited the petition requesting the abolition of commuting the sentences of mentally ill criminals.
However, despite the positive impact of his post, some are criticizing NamKoong for going against medical ethics. Article 19 of the current medical law declares that, except for exceptional cases, medical personnel must not reveal any health information about others. The people directly involved can even sue the discloser; revealing health information is especially consequential for doctors that are publicly renowned.
NamKoong clearly stated his two goals in writing the post, and he succeeded in achieving them. However, it is debatable whether posting the personal health information of his patient online and revealing it to countless people was the most effective method of meeting his goals. Someone who witnesses a victim’s last moments can obviously feel great anger towards the culprit, but this anger could have been vented in other ways.
Moreover, how seriously the victim was injured surely was a topic that the public wanted to know; however, how savagely the victim was murdered, how the medical personnel responded when they first encountered the patient, and his personal impression of the moment should not have been publicized. Instead, NamKoong should have concentrated on how unfair of the leniency for mentally ill criminals, a message which only accounts for about onetenth of the article. With such doubts, it is hard to dismiss the feeling that NamKoong used the patient’s health information without consent as a medium with which to boost the dramatic effect and tension of his writing.
A positive result of an action does not mean that it was the right decision to make. Although NamKoong’s Facebook post resulted in the explosive participation of the public in the petition, the outcome cannot justify going against medical law. The public impact of a doctor, especially when he is a famous author and speaker, is more tremendous than one can imagine. His intention to use his influence for a good cause is praiseworthy, but he should have considered whether unveiling a patient’s information was the wisest path to take.