Merciful or Ruthless: Plea for euthanasia chills China

By Guo Qiang (
Updated: 2007-02-08 11:16

Hu Wei and Xu Chuanzhen have to constantly supervise their six-year-old son Hu Youshuang, who suffers from cerebral palsy in the southwest province of Sichuan. The stress has become so much that they recently pleaded with doctors to euthanize him, according to an article on the Sichuan Online at

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

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

Euthanasia is not legal in China and many believe it to be against traditional Chinese concepts of morality. According to Chinese law, practicing euthanasia is equivalent to murder.

Guo Gang, a lawyer, said:" the couple is not legally allowed to appeal for euthanasia for their child no matter how convincing their reasons are."

"The couple could resort to help from society or communities to relieve their difficulties," Guo said, adding the boy's right to life is protected by law and nobody is authorized to deprive him of it.

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

Decades-old debate over euthanasia controversy

The euthanasia debate has been alive in China for two decades and the plight of Hu's parents highlights a controversial issue in China, where the laws governing euthanasia are as yet unclear.

A native to northwestern Shannxi Province, Wang Mingcheng made inroads into the euthanasia debate when he was involved in China's first official case of mercy killing in 1986.

Wang, then 32, and one of his sisters, after their mother was diagnosed with terminal, severe liver cirrhosis and advanced ascites, 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 reprieve by the local Hanzhong People's Court, which ruled that as there were no laws dealing specifically with mercy killing, the decision needed consideration.

Wang died from stomach cancer in 2003. When he asked for help to end his life, his request was rejected.

In 1988 National People's Congress (NPC) deputy Yan Renying wrote in a motion to the 7th National People's Congress (NPC) that life and death are both natural things, and it is natural for people with terminal illnesses to want to die by legal means rather than suffer the torture of a slow, painful death.

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

Qiu Renzong, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said that legislation should not be created until all the issues surrounding it have been addressed.

Chen Xingliang, a professor at the Peking University School of Law, said it is not yet time to legalize euthanasia in China.

"This is because, at the moment, it is hard to identify under what conditions euthanasia should be adopted," he explained, adding that, once legalized, euthanasia could be used as a means of murder.

"We must be cautious, because it involves human life," he said.

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