When law collides with love

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Beijing Review, September 7, 2012
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The case of an unemployed man in Beijing who forged a hospital stamp to obtain free medical treatment for his severely ill wife recently came to the forefront of China's healthcare debate.

Liao Dan, a 41-year-old laid-off worker, copied a hospital's stamp five years ago and used it to make fake receipts for the dialysis treatments of his wife, who suffers from uremia and would die without treatment. Over the next four years, Liao used the stamp to trick the hospital into covering 170,000 yuan ($26,984) worth of medical expenses.

Liao's trial began on June 11, and he is likely to face three to 10 years of imprisonment for fraud.

The case drew the attention of the public. Donations from society helped him pay off all the money owned to the hospital. Sympathizers are expecting the court to show leniency to Liao, while some hold that he should take the rap for violating the law. The following are excerpts of some opinions.

Imperfect system

Song Jiucheng (www.jschina.com.cn): Liao is essentially a good man. His love for his sick wife, which is seen as a highly moral duty in modern society, has moved many. But why is he now faced with the fate of being thrown into prison? What made a good man cross the moral line to violate the law? Why is China's current welfare and medical system unable to secure people's lives and health?

First, the average income of people in China is still low, and so ordinary workers are often unable to cope with serious illness in terms of medical expenses. Second, the country's level of relief is lagging far behind social needs. Thus, Liao's illegal actions were the result of helplessness.

To prevent people like Liao from taking desperate measures, the country needs to work out an effective medical insurance system offering free treatment for those who can't afford care, and more charity institutions and relevant government departments to give aid to families hit by major diseases.

If Liao had not done what he did, his wife would have already passed away. Applying for subsidies through normal channels would have been extremely complex and time-consuming. Choosing to steal or rob would not have helped his wife and may have resulted in his own death. He ultimately decided to trick the hospital, and the reality is that he managed to save his wife by doing so.

His fraud is different in nature from other cases. His crime was driven by a sense of morality, not by greed. The law is meant to deal with different kinds of people in different ways. Laws are man-made and should be modified and improved in order to keep pace with modern society.

Zhi Feng (www.rednet.cn): Generally speaking, people hate a swindler even more than a thief. But in this case, Liao has won the public's sympathy. Moreover, he has received enough cash in donations to help pay off the money he owes, and may be dealt with leniently by the court. The reactions toward this criminal case are complex. The public widely blamed the deficient social security system. Liao's choice to stay beside his wife, meanwhile, tugged at the heartstrings of many. More than a love story, it represents a clash between the law and morality.

What happens next is in the hands of the court. In the meantime, we ask if it is possible to show mercy to Liao in this unique case. Liao's wife is so sick that without his care, she might slip into further troubles. More importantly, Liao's case reveals a deep social problem relating to the less fortunate in today's Chinese society. The poverty is the fundamental reason that a good man turns to crime. At a time when basic morality is challenged, Liao's deeds are a rare tale of virtue. For these reasons, can't the law be more humane to this man? Public sympathy for Liao is somewhat based on the fact that he is a laid-off worker and his family lives on a "low-income subsidy." Uremia that his wife is suffering from is a severe disease that a poor person can find no ways to cope with. His struggle is a common problem facing ordinary people across China today.

The fraud case of Liao is a blow to China's current welfare and social security system. Only when the overall security system improves can similar tragedies be avoided. This goes beyond one individual criminal case and is related to the creation of a harmonious society.

Zhao Yongfeng (www.eastday.com): After Liao paid off the medical expenses he owes the hospital, and in the face of extensive public sympathy toward Liao, the court may give him a lenient sentence. Meanwhile, due to the society's donations and media attention, the couple might be given special treatment. Liao's misfortune may end with a positive result. However, his story is still a cruel humor for modern society.

Liao's case is one of many that are eventually solved under special circumstances. When a person dares to take risks and manages to trigger social debate and arouse public sympathy, the game changes. In face of such a terrible reality, we can't help but question our social security system and charity institutions. What are they doing and where are the charity institutions when people like Liao are desperately struggling?

We can't expect every desperate man to do as Liao has done in order to solve their problems. Not everyone will be as lucky as Liao to benefit from the spotlight. Therefore, to help more people like Liao, we need a more mature and well-developed social security system and charity aid network.

Xiao Yan (wcm.bjd.com.cn): Liao has been out of work for 10 years, trying to earn a meager living by offering motorbike services. In less than six months after his wife began dialysis treatments five years ago, the family ran out of savings and was unable to afford her medical expenses. They tried to borrow money from relatives and friends, but it wasn't enough. Liao was finally driven by the severe reality to take extreme measures. Although he broke the law, he is widely recognized as a good husband. Even if the law does not forgive him, the public forgives him, and even respects him.

However, more attention should be paid to the current medical insurance system, which drives a good man to desperate and extreme means. Only a small fraction of people can solve their problems as Liao did. Most people who can't afford medical expenses will be rejected by hospitals, only to see their diseases deteriorate. Liao shared his feeling of helplessness, sorrow and indignation in court when he said, "I can't let her die."

The current medical insurance system is hard to decipher. Medical insurance should focus more on the poor than the rich, because the former tends to be in bigger need of economic aid, particularly in the case of serious diseases. However, the current healthcare system is heading in the opposite direction. The poorer your family is, the more difficult it is to get covered by various social security programs.

Liao has committed fraud and should be punished in accordance with the law. But what kind of punishment will our problematic medical insurance system get?

Not a real hero

Hui Mingsheng (China Youth Daily): In order to keep his wife alive, Liao took a big risk in making a fake stamp and cheating the hospital. He may be a good husband, but what is the impact of his behavior on the hospital and the overall social order? His love for his wife is trampling social justice and the authority of law, and thus, he should be punished by the law.

A popular argument is that the underdeveloped medical insurance system forced Liao to make the fake stamp, and if people like him were able to afford medical expenses, he wouldn't have needed to take that risk in the first place.

This theory is reasonable to some extent, but it doesn't adequately justify what Liao did, nor does it make him a hero. No one should rob others just because he is impoverished. In modern society, only when the law is fully respected can we expect the society to operate in order.

The public and the media have expressed more than enough sympathy. I'm afraid paying too much attention to his case is harmful. On one hand, Liao's sense of guilt will be weakened; on the other hand, praise for Liao might mislead the society and encourage more cases like this in the future.

It's not that I don't know how to show sympathy to the weak. When I see so many people are interested in helping this poor couple, I think it's a sign of progress for the social moral standard. Still, the media and the public should keep a rational mind. They should avoid blindly following others in fashioning a criminal suspect into a hero.

When dealing with the fake stamp case, the court should try to reach a balance between law and morality. It should try not to be influenced by the overwhelming public arguments. Give Liao a fair treatment and uphold justice, so as to show the authority of the law and also tell the public to act in accordance with laws and rules.

Wu Chunmei (www.cnhan.com): As for the final verdict of Liao's case, the court may show maximum tolerance permitted by the law. However, the court does so not because of the public's sympathy and support for Liao, but because of Liao's frankness in the court and his willingness to pay off the medical expenses.

Liao's case tells us that no matter what difficult conditions you are living with, they can't be used as excuse for violating the law. Laws are sacred and inviolable. Laws won't bend to individuals' intentions. This is the core value of a society based on rule by law. If the authority of the law is damaged, the overall social rules will be damaged. We must always keep this in mind.


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