COLUMN & COMMENTARIES -
COLUMN & COMMENTARIES
Written by Administrator
Tuesday, 21 December 2010 06:12
AsiaViews, Edition: 10/IV/Apr/2007
To die or not to die at one's own hand or direction - that is an age-old question increasingly debated in China.
It is at once a moral, ethical and philosophical problem that has torn the hearts and challenged the minds of so many people - patients and their families and loved ones, doctors, lawmakers and thinkers - in many countries.
Now that the issue has become something like a Babel Tower, in which everyone has his or her view, why not let everyone decide for himself or herself?
Why should we forbid anyone from deciding that modern medical science should mercifully terminate his or her life when he or she so decides?
Life is beautiful, but more important is the beautiful mind. If the mind has lost hope for a dignified corporeal life, why not let it go?
The current caustic debate over euthanasia (literally "good death" in Greek) in China has its roots in the proposal by a young woman who suffers from muscular dystrophy, a hereditary disease characterized by progressive muscle wasting and weakness, for which there is no known cure.
Twenty-eight-year-old Li Yan has been suffering from the disease since she was five and her life has wholly depended on her parents.
"If my parents pass away before me, nobody could take care of me as they did. I'll become soiled and smelly, and could even starve to death," she said in her blog this month. "A life like that is wretched and has no dignity anymore. When that happens, I wish that my life be brought to end in a painless way."
During the annual session of the National People's Congress in Beijing this month, Li Yan submitted a proposal for legislation on euthanasia to a CCTV journalist, who immediately broadcast her ideas.
China's law is silent on whether assisted suicide is legal. That means prosecution is often ignored or only taken up by interested parties.
In fact Li's proposal was not the first. Many people have made similar proposals in the past 20 years, but legislators said the time was not yet ripe.
Despite slow progress in national legislation, there have been strong voices in favor of euthanasia.
"The major purposes of life are the pursuit of its highest quality and the realization of its full value," argues lawyer Zhang Zanning, professor of medical law at Dongnan University in Nanjing.
"When a person's life is no more than a biological existence (in a persistent vegetative state) or in the extreme pains of terminal disease, then his or her life has lost all of its quality," he said.
"Prolonging a life like that with medical techniques is not only meaningless, but is also cruel."
Judged by this principle, physician-assisted suicide should be allowed only if a terminal patient expresses his or her own will to die more quickly and less painfully.
In 1992 Zhang defended a physician who was charged with murdering a terminal cancer patient by lethal injection. The physician was acquitted.
In a 1998 survey of public opinion on euthanasia, Zhang interviewed 463 people; 448 of them supported euthanasia as humane. The support rate was 96.8 percent.
"Many Chinese people are ready to accept the legalization of euthanasia," Zhang concludes.
But there are people who think otherwise.
"According to our church, euthanasia is not right," said Shen Baoyi, a Chinese Catholic theologian who studied in France. "Every life is a gift from God, not a possession of human beings.
"For terminally ill persons, all we should do is give them hospice care. That is, taking care of the patients, trying to improve the quality of their life, to reduce the pain and other physical symptoms if possible, to resolve psychological problems and to ease their spirit, until death comes."
A Buddhism scholar says Buddhism is also opposed to euthanasia and suicide because all forms of life are considered sacred.
"Euthanasia is not allowed by Buddhism," said Liu Yuanchun, Buddhism scholar at Shanghai Institute of Social Sciences.
"Buddhists believe that every form of life has equal dignity and value; all lives depend on each other and maintain each other. Every existence should be cherished, for existence means hope," said Liu.
He said life is an unbreakable chain of changes, which follows the rule of causality.
One existence is turning successively from one form into another, in proportion to its good or bad actions.
"Killing, then, is the first prohibition for Buddhists. Not only killing through one's hands, but also advising or encouraging others to kill, and killing through any instruments or procedures is forbidden. Even the will to kill is wrong for it aids killing."
From this point of view, euthanasia is very wrong. It is initiated through a patient's will to kill himself or herself and is realized through another person's hands. Both the patient and the assistant violate the prohibition against killing.
Opinions differ greatly and behind these different opinions are different beliefs and comprehensions of the value and meaning of life.
In short, conflicts of ideals.
And I have my own stance, as well.
Certainly, the quality of life is important. However, it is not the entire value of life, which is so rich and magnificent that it cannot be reduced to peace of body and mind.
Giving up one's own life in the name of its quality or dignity is a sophisticated concept.
Just because different people's ideals of life differ so remarkably from each other and because it is impossible to say which one is the best, the prudent way forward is to leave the right to decide to each individual person - provided strict legal procedures are in place.
By: Ma Jun
Shanghai Daily News 30 March 2007
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 21 December 2010 06:12 )