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Op-ed: Wei Zexi’s story highlights the importance of proactive regulation

(People's Daily Online)    10:26, May 05, 2016
Op-ed: Wei Zexi’s story highlights the importance of proactive regulation
Wei Zexi (File Photo)

A Chinese college student recently died of cancer after receiving questionable treatment from a hospital that advertised on the search engine Baidu. The incident has sparked a huge outcry in China.

Wei Zexi was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, in 2014. His family then learned about an experimental immunotherapy treatment at a Beijing hospital via a Baidu search. The treatment, which uses cells generated by the patient's own immune system to counter the illness, cost the Wei family lot of money. But the treatment was unsuccessful and Wei died on April 12.

After Wei's death, the public first put the blame on Baidu, criticizing its auction-based ranking system as misleading for users. Public scrutiny later shifted to the medical entrepreneurs connected with the “Putian” system, named after the city in Fujian province from which many of them come.

The entrepreneurs made money by selling folk remedies, and then went on to invest in hospitals around the country. When media outlets published the list of hospitals included in the Putian system, the revelation triggered a critical discussion between many Chinese netizens. The ongoing public attention toward the issue comes not only from sorrow over the loss of a young man, but also from a sense of insecurity that the same thing could happen to anyone.

There is no doubt that responsible parties should own up to the role they played in Wei’s misfortune; Baidu, the contractor and the hospital itself should all be penalized. But more importantly, people expect that through accountability and punishment, such tragedies will not happen again.

The government quickly responded to the public outcry. On May 2, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) announced that it has, together with the State Administration of Industry and Commerce (SAIC) and the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC), set up an on-site investigation group at Baidu to look into this case and others that relate to the legal practices of Internet enterprises. Led by Fan Li, a senior official with CAC, the investigation group will release the results of their inquest as soon as possible.

However, one clear takeaway from the incident is that that initial supervision is much more important and effective than retroactive liability. What is the best way to prevent similar events from happening in the future? How can public confidence be maintained when it comes to the Internet and public hospitals? These are the concerns and questions of the general public.

Relevant government departments have an inescapable responsibility to determine the credibility of advertisers, regulate public information, filter false information and supervise the care provided in hospitals. If the government had been paying enough attention and fulfilling its responsibilities, Wei’s story could have ended very differently.

With investigation, the truth will soon be exposed. But by then it will already be too late for Wei and many others like him. All in all, progress made at the cost of human lives is a price we cannot afford. 

The article is edited and translated from 魏则西事件 事前监管比事后追责更重要,Source:People's Daily

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Hongyu,Wu Chengliang)

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