SEOUL, Nov. 24 (Korea Bizwire) – With news continuing to filter out that the wounded North Korean defector brought to Ajou University Hospital has regained consciousness and is on the road to recovery, lead doctor Lee Kook-jong has won plaudits from many corners for his role in saving the soldier’s life.
However, a minor controversy has brewed in the past few days as to whether Lee abused the authority of his position by revealing to the public various aspects of his famous patient’s condition in exchanges with the media.
On November 17, politician Kim Jong-dae stirred up the hornet’s nest with a post on his Facebook page which read, “The North Korean soldier who was in the process of defecting to the South was fired upon by a North Korean unit in pursuit and suffered injustices against human dignity.”
Kim went on to say, “But in the South, he once again suffered, this time a round of ‘terrorism against human dignity’ [by medical staff] who completely revealed the status of parasitic worms in his body, the fecal matter in his intestines and even the remains of corn in his stomach.”
Kim is believed to be referring to the presentation Lee gave two days prior on November 15. During the course of expounding upon the particulars of the soldier’s two surgeries, Lee shared that his patient was suffering from parasitic infections that had been present before he received his gunshot wounds after crossing the military demarcation line at Panmunjom.
Lee went on to make the observation that the parasites were most likely roundworms, and that the possibility for the disease to persist in North Korea was evidence of the poor conditions facing the people.
Kim’s Facebook post also complained that Lee’s words had cast North Korea in a bad light, turning it into “a dirty country”, “a land of parasites” and “an abhorrent nation”. “In my opinion, more than North Korea the country of parasitic worms, a voyeuristic country that wags its tongue about such matters is a South Korea that is no better.”
Kim, through another Facebook post on November 23, expressed his concerns as to whether Lee had violated Article 19 of the Medical Service Act, which prevents medical professionals from disclosing patient information. The same post criticized Lee for allowing military members to enter the operating room and called for the doctor to take responsibility and issue a heartfelt apology.
In response, Lee during a press briefing later on in the same day addressed the issue by agreeing that “keeping medical records under wraps is a core principle”. Rather than providing a direct rebuttal to the National Assemblyman’s statements, Lee instead said, “Where to draw the line on the patient’s privacy against the right of the public and the press to know what’s going on was something I deliberated on exceedingly.”
Regarding the topic of human dignity, Lee was emphatic in his answer that “saving [the soldier's] life” is the most meaningful way to preserve his human rights.
With the differing points of view gaining traction in the news, Kim has come forward and expressed his desire to apologize to the doctor.
“[My views] were misconstrued as an attack on Dr. Lee,” Kim said in a radio interview. He clarified his target of disapproval to be the military, saying that they had been “overly involved from the start”.