What They Said is a regular series on the quotes Korea is talking about.
One of the major talking points in South Korea in recent weeks has been a bill concerning the Medical Service Act.
In 2020, the South Korean National Assembly’s Health and Welfare Committee began reviewing the bill, which proposed amendments to the country’s medical law. Among the various topics covered by the bill, the main issue was the cancellation of medical licenses (for two to five years) for doctors who have committed sexual assault or other violent crimes and have been sentenced to imprisonment or a higher form of punishment.
This is an issue that has long been debated in Korea. In 2018, the investigative TV show In Depth 60 Minutes aired an episode on Korea’s Medical Service Act, particularly Article 8 (Grounds for Disqualification), which stipulates that a doctor can only lose their license if they violate a medical service law. In June 2020, JTBC also broadcast a news segment on a doctor who had been sentenced to 20 years in prison for killing his wife in 2011 and noted that he could be released in as little as five to six years and would be able to return to work as a doctor.
As both the main ruling party and the opposition party generally agreed that such a person should not be allowed to practice medicine, the Health and Welfare Committee passed the bill on February 19. Unfortunately the revised bill did encounter opposition among a certain section of the general public: doctors.
The Korean Medical Association, a private organization with a membership of 130,000 doctors, issued a statement:
The Korean Medical Association and 16 city and provincial medical associations across the country express deep regret regarding the First Legislation Review Subcommittee of the National Assembly’s Health and Welfare Committee’s passing of the revision bill for the Medical Service Act, which ignores the autonomy of medical experts and forces the revocation of medical licenses as well as the prohibition of the re-issuance of medical licenses. …
Forcibly managing the licenses of medical personnel by opening up the reasons for disqualification to virtually all crimes, instead of limiting them to certain types or kinds of crimes, deprives medical experts of the opportunity to improve their ethical awareness and strictly manage their licenses by themselves. In addition, reckless cancellation and management of licenses cannot be a fundamental solution to improving the ethical awareness of medical personnel.
The KMA as well as the 16 city and provincial medical associations and the medical community strongly condemn the National Assembly’s unreasonable attempt to amend the Medical Service Act and demand a full review of the bill. 
— Korean Medical Association, February 20, 2021.
Choi Daejip, the chairman of the KMA, threatened a doctors’ strike across the country and pointed out that there was talk, at the level of the provincial and city doctors’ association, of temporarily suspending doctors’ cooperation with the Covid-19 vaccination program.
In addition, six KMA chairman candidates also issued a statement on February 20, saying, “Medical licenses can be managed through voluntary disciplinary action rather than revision of the Medical Service Act… Indiscriminate punishments are absolutely unacceptable, because they will produce a massive number of victims of good faith in the medical field, and eventually the damage will be inflicted on the public.”
On February 22, National Assembly member Ko Young-in of the Democratic Party of Korea explained the details of the revision bill on Kim Hyun-jung’s News Show:
I’d like to say something before we get into that. I hope people can understand that this revision of the Medical Service Act is not simply an act of strengthening the requirements for the medical license but a process of normalizing the requirements for the medical license. It’s not a process aimed at stifling the doctors but at raising people’s confidence in doctors. That’s what I wanted to say first before we begin.
As you said, until now, medical licenses were cancelled only for medical service-related crimes, such as writing up false diagnoses, renting out medical licenses, or breaching patient confidentiality. But [for the revision bill] we expanded the crimes to all serious criminal offenses for which the sentence is imprisonment or higher. … So if a doctor receives a prison sentence, then the medical license is revoked for five years; for a stay of execution of a prison sentence, two years. For a suspended sentence, the license will be cancelled for the duration of the suspension. And we did put in an exception. A charge of professional negligence resulting in death, meaning death resulting from medical accidents and medical disputes, is excluded from the bill.
— Ko Young-in, National Assembly member, February 22, 2021.
Kim Dae-ha, a spokesman for the KMA, also appeared on the show to explain the KMA’s perspective on the matter:
The vast majority of decent, ordinary doctors are not going to be affected much by this law. And if it is enforced, we will of course be able to prevent killers or rapists from practicing medicine.
Then you should also think about this: “Why are most doctors arguing against this bill that may have nothing to do with them?” It’s not because doctors want to defend colleagues who commit rape or murder. And it’s absolutely not because they want to commit rape or murder themselves. As I explained earlier, the reason for our objection is concern about the possibility that one of those decent, ordinary doctors, who make up the vast majority of doctors, might end up caught up in an accident caused by negligence or their lack of knowledge about the law and thus become unable to practice medicine. 
— Kim Dae-ha, spokesman for the KMA, February 22, 2021.
Unfortunately for the KMA, public opinion turned against the doctors—the organization was effectively saying that it, a private organization with paid members, could set up a committee within itself to determine the revocation and reissuance of medical licenses. If that were the case, why even have a national medical exam?
The revision of the Medical Service Act was not something that was brought up out of the blue. It had been under discussion for a long time, and it rose to the surface with a petition to Cheong Wa Dae in August 2020 in response to the medical interns and residents who were on strike at the time:
Even as the Covid crisis is at its peak and people are dying, doctors are able to refuse to treat patients because of the evil Medical Service Act that was revised in 2000.
Under the revised evil Medical Service Act, medical personnel can retain their licenses to practice even if they commit murder, robbery, or sexual assault.
All members of the medical community can keep their licenses even if they commit crimes, as long as they do not violate the Medical Service Act, and as a result they have become a group of monsters with absolute power, unafraid of punishments such as a three-year imprisonment or a fine of ₩30 million.
At the time, this evil Medical Service Act bill was tabled by a doctor to the Legislation Review Subcommittee, which was also chaired by a doctor. In addition, there were five doctors on the Health and Welfare Committee.
Since then, a total of 19 bills have been proposed to revise this evil law…, but not a single one has passed due to strong opposition from the doctors.
I hope that this evil Medical Service Act can be revised to strengthen people’s safety and public order.
— Petitioner, August 31, 2020.
According to JTBC News, a survey of public opinion indicated that 68.5% of Koreans were in favor of the revised bill, with 50.1% saying they “strongly agreed” with it.
Even the Association of Korean Medicine released a statement, criticizing the KMA:
… No matter how much they oppose the “License Revocation Law”, it is very wrong to use a matter that is directly related to people’s lives to make their voices heard.
This kind of action from the western medical community clearly shows how much it has dominated the healthcare and medical community with a haughty attitude and how much it has carried out its will with such absolute power.
— Association of Korean Medicine, February 24, 2021.
Possibly feeling the pressure, the KMA took a step back on February 24, acknowledging the need for “strict restrictions” as well as the legislative intent and the people’s demand for an amendment of the law.
However, on February 26, the bill failed to pass the National Assembly’s Legislation and Judiciary Committee due to opposition from the People Power Party. So we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to this bill.