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Print Edition> Forum
UPDATED: April 9, 2007 NO.15 APR.12, 2007
Should Mercy Killing of the Terminally Ill Be Allowed?
Mercy killing is a difficult choice to make worldwide. In China the issue is now being debated after the pleas of a diseased young woman living in pain was posted on the Internet, begging to be allowed to terminate her life

Li Yan, a 28-year-old woman in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, has been suffering from progressive muscular dystrophy since shortly after her birth. Today she can't move any part of her body except for her head and a few fingers. Her body has withered away.

In March 2007, Li left a message on a blog belonging to Chai Jing, an anchorwoman of News Probe, a popular investigative program on the national TV broadcaster. She asked Chai to help her submit a euthanasia bill to this year's full session of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature. Due to its controversial nature, it did not take the blog posting long to spread across cyberspace like wildfire.

Li said in her online plea, "I love life but I will not live." Although she feels she could live to be 40 years old, she is terrified that if she does not die before her parents, who are her sole caregivers, she will not be able to look after herself and will perish in an unimaginably painful way. "I can't die in that way, I'm afraid of dying like that, so I beg for permission to be put to death mercifully while I am still able to sit and speak," she continued.

In Li's opinion, those who decide to terminate their own life must be living with incurable disabilities or diseases. Tortured by pain, loss of dignity and surrender of hope, some choose suicide. And the misery is not confined to patients alone, as their families are also indirect victims of the diseases. Euthanasia or mercy killing, however, can help to relieve patients of the torture they endure and also help remove the heavy burden placed on families. Li is hopeful that the passage of the euthanasia bill is only a matter of time.

In China, a large number of people support euthanasia or the legalization of euthanasia. Almost every NPC session since 1994 has received bills on euthanasia from deputies, yet there has been no progress to date. Supporters point out that those who apply for euthanasia reveal the poor social security and welfare system for the disabled and for patients with serious diseases in China.

Opponents of euthanasia say they are afraid that the current condition in China is not ready for this alternative way to deal with terminally ill patients. They argue it may be used as an excuse for other purposes, like murder by family members or relatives, and eventually lead to disorder in social morality. Only when the country is equipped with well-developed and clearly defined laws and regulations on this issue can euthanasia be considered as an option, they say. Besides, as traditional Chinese morality values life, it will take quite a long time for the Chinese to accept this practice.

The right to terminate life

Chi Mo (www.newssc.org): Precious as life is, everyone's life should be respected and valued. However, when one is living with a disease that modern medical science is incapable of curing and the patient feels that to live is even more miserable than to die, the right to terminate his or her own life should be respected.

Li has had progressive muscular dystrophy, the so-called "super cancer," since she was 1 year old. For the past 27 years, she has been living an unimaginably hard life. For healthy people, to live is quite simple, but to this poor woman, it's too difficult a task. The healthy should not take it for granted that patients like Li are as happy to live as they are.

Life should be valued and protected. However, sometimes, no matter how we hate to see people die, we can do nothing to help.

People's appeal for the legal status of euthanasia is actually their wish that current laws can better protect the right of survival and also the right to terminate one's own life in a humane way. To adopt euthanasia does not imply indifference toward life, but more to improve the quality of life.

Liang Jianfang (New Express): Those opposed to euthanasia believe it destroys the natural law of life, is open to abuse and diminishes mankind's strength and courage to overcome disasters.

However, while people are discussing the significance of life and the right to live, the patients are struggling desperately in huge pain-pain that can often lead to suicide.

The Chinese traditional attitude toward life is that "a live dog is better than a dead lion." Even if a person is terminally ill, his or her family will try everything possible to maintain life. Because of this mindset, the patient's own view toward life is always neglected.

Of course we must take measures to prevent the many problems related to euthanasia. At the current stage, it's suggested that euthanasia can be practiced on a certain category of patients, such as terminal cancer sufferers. If living means waiting for a painful and miserable death, then patients should be granted the right to choose death. There is nothing inhumane about allowing them to forgo a life of torture by choosing euthanasia.

Lu Xinkui (hlj.rednet.cn): When a patient who is suffering from unimaginable pain can do nothing but wait for the end of life, to actively terminate his or her own life reveals more helplessness than courage. In this case, to ban euthanasia is inhumane.

For some people, suicide can solve all their problems. Most of those who commit suicide are suffering from certain psychological disorders and could probably be saved. However, in the case of Li, she has lost even the ability to physically end her own life.

In ancient China, there was a cruel punishment called ling chi, where a person would have his or her flesh cut from the body while still alive, to then be left to die a slow and painful death. For some incurable patients, the diseases that eat up their health must be as excruciating as ling chi.

There are those afraid that euthanasia may result in serious social problems, becoming an excuse for murder, medical malpractice and accidents. However, I believe that euthanasia can be standardized through laws and regulations. It's unreasonable to forbid euthanasia just because of the possibility that it may be abused.

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