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Merciful or Ruthless: Plea for Euthanasia Chills China
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Hu Wei and Xu Chuanzhen have to keep a close watch on their six-year-old son Hu Youshuang in the southwestern province of Sichuan at all times as he suffers from cerebral palsy. The strain has become so much that they recently pleaded with doctors to euthanize him, states an article on Sichuan Online at scol.com.cn.

The family is heavily in debt from medical bills and living under incredible stress. Cerebral palsy is a group of permanent disorders associated with developmental brain injuries that occur during fetal development, birth or shortly after birth. It's characterized by a disruption in motor skills, paralysis and seizures.

"We've gone through lots of medical books on the disease. We learned that it's caused by irreversible brain damage. There's no cure," the couple told Sichuan Online. "It's a misery for us and him."

Euthanasia is not legal in China and many believe it to be against traditional Chinese concepts of morality. According to the country's laws euthanasia is equivalent to murder.

"The couple is not legally allowed to appeal for euthanasia for their child no matter how convincing their reasons are. They could resort to help from society or communities to relieve their difficulties," said Guo Gang, a lawyer. The boy's right to life was protected by law and nobody was authorized to deprive him of it, explained the lawyer.

After the Netherlands legalized euthanasia in 2002 several countries followed suit. The issue remains controversial in many others.

Decades-old debate and controversy over euthanasia

The euthanasia debate has been alive in China for two decades and the plight of Hu's parents highlights a controversial issue in the country where the laws governing euthanasia are not yet clearly defined. 

A native to northwestern Shanxi Province, Wang Mingcheng, entered the euthanasia debate when he was involved in China's first official case of euthanasia -- often referred to as "mercy killing," in 1986.

After their mother was diagnosed with terminal, severe liver cirrhosis and advanced ascites, Wang, then 32, and one of his sisters pleaded with doctors to give Xia Suwen a lethal injection. Wang and the principal physician, Pu Liansheng, were convicted of murder in September 1987.

On April 6, 1991 Wang and Pu were granted a reprieve by the local Hanzhong People's Court ruling that as there were no laws dealing specifically with euthanasia the decision required consideration. Wang died from stomach cancer in 2003. When he asked for help to end his life his request was rejected.

In 1988 Yan Renying, a deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC), wrote in a motion to the 7th NPC that as life and death were both natural it was understandable that people with terminal illnesses  wanted to die legally rather than suffer a slow and painful death.

According to a 2003 poll on euthanasia conducted by Shaohai Market Investigation Co Ltd, 64.8 percent of respondents in Beijing accepted the controversial practice and believed the time was right for China to legalize it.

Qiu Renzong, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that legislation shouldn't occur until all the issues surrounding the subject had been addressed.

Chen Xingliang, a professor at the Peking University's Law School, said it wasn't yet time to legalize euthanasia in China.

"This is because, at the moment, it's hard to identify under what conditions euthanasia should be adopted," he said, suggesting that once legalized, euthanasia could be used as a means of murder.
"We must be cautious because it involves human life."

(China Daily February 8, 2007)

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