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Legislators weigh issue of euthanasia

By WANG XIAODONG | China Daily | Updated: 2019-04-23 07:39

Deputies say people should have more options in cases of terminal disease

National legislators suggested legalizing euthanasia during a review of a draft amendment to the civil law by China's top legislative body on Sunday. It would give patients nearing the end of life more choices.

Li Jie, a deputy to the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, said many cancer patients in the terminal stages feel acute pain and would choose euthanasia if available, so it should be legalized to protect human dignity.

"Many senior acquaintances contact me during festivals hoping I can privately give them some anesthetics to relieve their pain, but I can't. Only doctors are authorized to give them such drugs," said Li, who is also chairman of pharmaceutical company Humanwell Healthcare, during the review of the draft amendment to the civil law by the NPC Standing Committee. But even doctors can only provide such drugs in narrow circumstances, Li said.

Narcotics such as anesthetics are tightly controlled in China, resulting in many patients in need of pain-relieving drugs receiving only a limited amount of such drugs from hospitals, Fan Li, former vice-president of Chinese PLA General Hospital, said earlier.

Ma Yide, another NPC deputy who made the same suggestion during the review, said the law should allow some people the right to euthanasia.

"Patients who are determined by doctors as having incurable diseases and whose pain cannot be relieved should have the right to make their own decisions to receive euthanasia," he said.

Strict procedures should be followed to protect their rights, including written consent submitted to authorities for approval before euthanasia should be performed at certified medical institutions, he said, adding that consent should be able to be withdrawn at any time.

Meanwhile, regulations should forbid any organization or individual from cheating, luring or forcing patients to receive euthanasia, he said.

Euthanasia has been debated among medical and ethical circles for many years in China. Various national legislators and political advisers have proposed legalizing it since the late 1980s, but no significant movement has followed in law.

Although performing euthanasia can help relieve unbearable pain for patients in the terminal stages of disease, and help reduce the burden on their family and society, many difficulties surround its legalization, the National Health Commission said in a statement released earlier this year.

Supporting euthanasia may cause doctors to give up their resolve to try their best to fight diseases, including some that seem beyond treatment for the present but are potentially curable in the future as medicine develops, it said.

In addition, disparities in the medical development of different regions in China means many medical institutions may not be able to follow the criteria for performing euthanasia, the commission said.

Ma, who is also a legal researcher at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, said that after many years of debate the timing for legalizing euthanasia in China is becoming ripe.

"When the concept of euthanasia was first proposed in the 1980s, many Chinese had a limited concept of a person's right to life, and the limited development of medical care and limited professionalism among some physicians meant that legalizing euthanasia would have been premature," he said. "But China's medical care has fundamentally improved over the years, and the public has a more profound understanding of life and can accept the idea."

Ma said many of his friends and colleagues support his proposal.

"It is meaningless to require a terminal patient live a few days longer against his or her will," he said.

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