Move focuses on good death
Euthanasia, or mercy killing, returned to the word’s front pages in April as the Netherlands became the first nation to legalize the act.
The Dutch news rekindled heated discussions and debates in the Chinese medical world and media, but the fact remains that terminally ill patients here still must live with pain.
A survey of 522 nurses by the Wuhan People’s Hospital in Hubei Province showed that 71.7 per cent favored euthanasia and 11.5 per cent were opposed, reported the China News Agency on April 22.
“Euthanasia is not a new topic in China. Occasional reports about relevant cases and the result of scholarly research often have raised the issue since the 1980s,” says bio-ethicist Zhai Xiaomei of Beijing’s Capital Medical College.
Euthanasia is sometimes called mercy killing, doctor-assisted suicide or painless death. It is usually understood as a merciful act to relieve a terminally – ill patient’s unbearable physical pain.
No special law or rule governs euthanasia as such in China, but the fact fits the vague concept of “intentional killing” in the Criminal Code.
A criminal lawsuit was filed in 1986 against Pu Liansheng, the doctor responsible for the first reported case of mercy killing in China. Pu was declared innocent by a court in Hanzhong, Shanxi Province in 1990.
A 1988 survey of 500 Beijingers showed that 91.2 per cent support the idea of euthanasia and 79.8 per cent believes that it’s a practical reality in China. Surveys in other major cities in the late 1980s rendered similar results.
While the majority of society seems to favor this supposedly humanitarian practice, it still could take decades for the country’s legislative and judicial departments to deal with the highly controversial issue.
“There certainly have been discussions, but on China’s packed medical legislative agenda, euthanasia is far down the list,” says Zhang Yunlin, director of Laws and Regulations Department with the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Health.
Officials of the Ministry of Health also say that euthanasia is unlikely to be included on the agenda within the near future. Yet the voices calling for legislation on euthanasia have become louder in recent years