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UPDATED: February 11, 2015 NO. 8 FEBRUARY 19, 2015
Is It Time to Put the Euthanasia Issue to Rest?

HELPLESSNESS: Xiong Junyi's parents consult with a doctor about the condition of the brain-damaged boy in a hospital in Liuan, Anhui Province, on January 22 (CFP)

The rejection of a recent application by a couple in east China's Anhui Province to have their brain-damaged one-year-old son euthanized has reignited debates concerning the practice in question. The boy, Xiong Junyi, suffered severe head injuries after being accidentally dragged onto a conveyer belt last December and is now on life support, unable to breathe unaided. According to Anhui Provincial Children's Hospital, which is in charge of the boy's treatment, his recovery is highly unlikely as he suffered hypoxia, with his brain being deprived of oxygen from either his circulatory or respiratory systems for eight minutes. Generally speaking, over four minutes of exposure to such conditions causes irreversible brain damage.

To end his suffering, the boy's parents applied for euthanasia to be carried out in their son's case. The hospital, however, rejected, saying it is illegal in China. The parents then turned to local civil affairs authorities to plead their case, but their request remained unfulfilled. Officials said that though the boy is seriously ill, as long as he is alive, there should be respect for his life.

This is not the first time that the issue of euthanasia has reared its head in the public sphere in China. In 2007, a 29-year-old woman, Li Yan, who was suffering from sclerotic muscle dystrophy, made a plea for euthanasia, throwing the controversial issue into spotlight. Li was completely unable to take care of herself with only her head and several of her fingers being able to move. She even went to the trouble of drawing up a draft bill on euthanasia, in hopes that it could be submitted to the national legislature by lawmakers sympathetic to her cause.

Calls for its legislation on euthanasia, especially for those cases involving minors, have been on the increase in recent years after the media unveiled a series of rejected euthanasia applications for children who possessed severe birth defects or were experiencing late-stage cancer. Supporters say the practice is in accord with humanitarian principles, but opponents express concern that euthanasia legalization could lead to murder.

Right to life

Xu Hui (Changsha Evening News): China's current laws define the situation where one is entrusted to conduct or facilitates euthanasia as murder. As a result, in many cases, although people may be loath to see their beloved ones struggle on in agony, they are unable to help them to be euthanized for legal concerns.

Debates on whether euthanasia should be legalized have long raged, even in many Western countries, and the focus of controversy is on whether or not euthanasia will engender undesirable outcomes.

Some people believe that choosing euthanasia is irreproachable for someone who is dying after suffering from the torment of pain caused by incurable or terminal diseases for a long period of time.

However, once the practice is legalized, the negative societal impacts would also be immeasurable. For example, in the Netherlands, which in 2001 became the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia, many of the country's elderly people reportedly have decided to emigrate to other countries amid concerns that should they fall ill, they would be involuntarily subjected to euthanasia in their home country.

With the progress of modern medical science, the definition of "fatal illness" has continued to evolve over time, and the act of properly and scientifically defining such illnesses poses a challenge to the medical community and the judicial system alike.

Owing in particular to an underdeveloped medical aid system, sometimes, it's not the case that the current medical technologies are incapable of rescuing the patients from their plight, but that the patients have, for financial reasons, to give up the kind of medical treatments that might otherwise have helped them recover. They do not want to drag the whole family into absolute poverty because of their illnesses and, equally, they have no desire to endure the endless pain. It is this desperation that may force the hand of many to choose euthanasia.

Against this backdrop, should euthanasia be legalized, there is sizeable potential for it to be abused or selected for entirely the wrong reasons. It is also possible that employers, family members and friends of the afflicted may nudge seriously ill people in the direction of euthanasia, as a way of ending their lives and resolving all of the troubles surrounding their conditions.

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