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Euthanasia debate refuses to die in China

(Xinhua)    09:28, January 27, 2015

HEFEI, Jan. 26 -- A couple in eastern China's Anhui Province is pleading for the right to allow their ailing son to die.

The 16-month-old boy suffered severe brain damage in December when he got stuck on a conveyer belt in his father's factory. Discharged from hospital in January, he cannot move, talk or breathe on his own. Every three hours, his mother must inject milk into his stomach tube to feed him. Doctors say his chances of recovery are almost nonexistent.

"We cannot bear to watch our son starving to death," said his father. The couple asked doctors and the civil affairs bureau of Huoqiu County if they could end the boy's suffering, but were firmly rejected. Euthanasia is illegal in China.

The story has reignited the debate over euthanasia in China, because sadly, the case is not exceptional.

In 2007, a 29-year-old woman named Li Yan attracted nationwide attention by posting a short article on her blog. Living with motor-neurone disease for almost her whole life, she can only move her head and some fingers. "I love my life, but I would rather die if I cannot live with dignity," she wrote.

Her parents act as her cooks, nurses and carers. "I am their burden," Li wrote. "They are getting old and I cannot imagine what life will be like when they are gone."

Supporters say mercy killing saves people from unnecessary suffering pain, and people should be allowed to choose their own fate.

Pan Jing, a doctor with the Cancer Hospital of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, believes legalization of euthanasia is both necessary and urgent.

"In 30 years working in this hospital, I have seen how miserable patients are when there is no cure for their illnesses," she said. "I have seen unconscionable suffering, hopelessness and lingering pain which can only be ended by death"

Pan says that around a quarter of her patients expressed the wish to die painlessly and with dignity. "I feel sorry for them, of course, but there is nothing I can do to help."

Opponents of euthanasia consider it an infringement of people's right to life, claiming that it is a complicated issue involving factors such as jurisprudence, ethics and medical technology, and is difficult to handle in practice.

"The right of life is paramount," said Wei Ansong, a lawyer. "Nobody can end one's life but oneself."

It is hard to judge whether the patients are making free choices based on their own will. Wang Kaiyu of the Anhui Academy of Social Sciences, told Xinhua that he considers China as neither prepared nor mature enough to legalize the practice.

One precondition of allowing patients to choose to die is that their families, medical institutions and government departments have all fully carried out their responsibilities to save the patient's life, he said.

"A developing country with a large, often poorly educated, rural population, China has a social security system and medical services that need improving. It would be wrong to replace one tragedy with another. Choosing mercy killing due to lack of funds for treatment would be just such a tragedy," Wang said.

Very few countries currently allow euthanasia--the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland, for example. All countries which could fairly be described as very highly developed.

Moral, ethical and legal debate on this complicated, heartrending issue continues, with no end in sight. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Liang Jun,Yao Chun)

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