Globally, euthanasia legislation has become a continuing controversial issue. It remains complex as cultural, social, ethical, legal and moral factors are put into consideration. The literature, (Webb et al 1997 as cited in Blank, 2005) demonstrates that issues related to dying such as euthanasia and brain death has increased dramatically in today’s society. Few countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium have implemented the new law on April and May 2002 respectively where it legalizes the act of euthanasia under certain circumstances. In China, the practice of euthanasia is known to be illegal and an ongoing debate on its legislation since the country’s first reported mercy killing in the 1980’s ( Li Yiting and colleagues, 2005). Li Yiting et al assert that the term euthanasia literally originated from ancient Greek where it means ‘the good death which involves painless killing’. Views from various dimensions between religious, patients and medical practitioners lead to the question of whether or not euthanasia in China should be legalized. They all have very strong perspectives on the matter and in this essay I will discuss their points of view in order to decide for myself what I believe the act of euthanasia in China should be.
Historically, the debate over euthanasia in China started in 1986 where a medical practitioner accelerated the death of a female patient suffered from ascites, cirrhosis of the liver (Cong Yali, 1996). Due to the incurable disease and to reduce the pain and suffering, one of her son persuaded the doctor to stop his mother’s life. This case was brought to court and it took five years to make a final judgement where both doctor and son were found to be not guilty. Death issue is not extensively talked about in China due to the influence of Confucianism. However, this particular euthanasia case has invited the public to talk about it up until now. Du (2002, p. 51, as cited by Li Yiting and colleague) argued that the Chinese government have discussed about a euthanasia law, but no final decision has been made.
In any religion, the act of euthanasia is unacceptable. Battin (2005, p. 21) indicated that ‘the taking of human life is simply wrong.’ Killing is extremely prohibited and deemed as morally wrong in all religious systems such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. China is a country where religions have had a deep impact on their people especially the Confucian ethics. Side Li and Jia- Ling Chou (2006) argue that in Confucian’s doctrine of filial piety, the children should not tolerate any harm to their parents. In Chinese society, this filial piety plays an important role as not supporting their parents until they die will be considered as unfilial. Sprung et al (2008, p. 426) demonstrate that though a Chinese patient is resigned to death, the children are more likely to prefer therapy even when futile as filial piety is only shown when their parent is alive. As for Buddhism, life is sacred in which to extend a life is good and will be rewarded in the next life. While, to kill or shorten life will be punished in their next life. Thus, it is not surprising that some people will consider their religious beliefs as the main basis when it comes to the matter of euthanasia. This will make the legislation of euthanasia in China a heated religion debate.
For certain patients, they however have a different opinion regarding the need of legislation of euthanasia in China. Yvonne YYM Mak and Glyn GE Elwyn (2005) suggested that the patients in China particularly in Hong Kong wish for euthanasia. The reasons evident are pain, dependency, burden, social isolation, depression, hopelessness and the issue of autonomy. From their findings, it demonstrated that the intolerable and incurable disease leads to hopelessness and this arouse the desire of hastening death in them. This is further supported by Battin (2002, p. 20) who highlighted that the act of euthanasia guarantees the liberty of human and gives a sense of autonomy to the patients. Battin argued that if a person has the right to decide the path of his of her life, a person also has the right to determine the course of his or her own dying. For certain patients, they prefer to die with dignity through the practice of euthanasia rather than to bear with the grave disease. In an article Jessie (2007) showed that Li Yan, a 28 year old terminally ill female who suffered from motor neuron disease requested for euthanasia. Dependency on parents since she is born due to the incapability of performing basic body functions and the thought of leading a misery life if her parents die leads her to draft motion for legalizing euthanasia in China.
Medical practitioners in China do favour the legislation of euthanasia. Faulkner (2006, p. 203) highlighted that surveys in 1990’s has showed the rapid rise in the support of euthanasia especially among the medical workers. This is further supported by the survey done by the Chinese Academy of Medical Science where 95% of medical staffs approved the act of euthanasia. The cost of medical treatment for dying patient is highly expensive and very limited. Thus, this will become a burden for certain patients. Based on statistical data by Li et al ( 2005, p.52), in some hospital wards in Beijing, the dying patient need to pay about 2000 RMB (approximately $ 250 US) monthly. The cost exceeds the annual earnings of most peasant families. Professor Liu Xiuwen from the Teaching Hospital of Beijing Medical University (as cited in Faulkner, 2006) contends that it would be unjust if the doctor cannot suggest to the family members to withhold the medical treatment if the situation seems to be hopeless. Also, he claims that it will be a waste of expensive medical treatment if the patients themselves do ask for euthanasia but is rejected due to unlawful act. With the arrival of aging society and limited resources of health care to satisfy every patient, that has made most medical practitioners to support the legalization of euthanasia. Li et al ( 2005, p.37) highlight that ‘ in China, the population of 60 years and above is growing by 3.2 % annually and by 2025 it will reach about 280 million of the total population.’ Thus, to satisfy every need of terminally ill patients especially the elderly would be a great challenge in China. That has made the euthanasia issue among the medical practitioner of vital central considering the extreme medical cost and aging population problem.
Both the patients and medical practitioners’ views on the important of legalizing euthanasia in China seem justified. Even though the practice of euthanasia is illegal in China, surveys after surveys show that it does exist and is silently practiced across the country. Da- Pu et al (2004, p. 161) argued that based on the Journal Chinese Medical ethics, there are thousands of cases from 1989 to 1995. There are 2537 cases which involves active and passive euthanasia with 176 cases were active euthanasia. Zeng et al, (1994, as cited by Da- Pu et al, p. 161) demonstrated that there were seven cases in Nanchang, Jiangxi province. The patients in advanced stages of cancer requested for euthanasia several times, but were rejected. Consequently, they ended their unbearable pain by committing suicide. For instance, by jumping from a building and hanging themselves. Such cases have been a wide debated issue in China. Another example of silently practiced active euthanasia happened in Nanjing, Jiangsu province. As Yat et al (1993, as cited by Da-Pu et al, p. 162) claimed that the patients in 19 cases collected in that province performed the act of euthanasia by themselves by taking poison as they saw no hope and recovery in their prolonged suffering and pain. Li et al (as cited in Renzong Qiu, p.162) observed that
‘these cases indicate that the practice of euthanasia in China has encountered many setbacks without laws to regulate the practice, but cruel reality forced people to adopt spontaneous methods for a comfortable death from time to time.
Thus, this reveals that even if the act of euthanasia is prohibited in China, it is widely carried out. The legislation of euthanasia is a matter of time and almost accepted by most Chinese people.
In conclusion, though the religious beliefs in China view the practice of euthanasia as an unlawful act, in my opinion the act should be legalized. Both patients and medical practitioners’ perspectives towards euthanasia are explicitly strong and convincing. I believe that in no doubt, the legalization of euthanasia in China is a matter of time and law where one day, it will be legalized considering its increasing support gained by various parties.
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