Euthanasia for Dying Toddler Rejected, Shedding Light on China's Legislation

January 29, 2015
Editor: Kiki Liu

The 1-year-old toddler by the name of Xiong Junyi lies in the bed and cries, suffering from severe brain damage after getting stuck on a conveyer belt in his father's workshop in December 2014. The undated photo shows Xiong Zhengqing (L) and his wife carrying their son and feeding him with milk, who has been unable to breath on his own. [Chinanews.com]

A couple's euthanasia request for their little son, who was recently left with severe brain damage following an accident in east China's Anhui Province, was rejected on January 23, 2015, because it was in violation of the related regulations according to Chinese law.

Since suffering severe brain damage after getting stuck on a conveyer belt in his father's workshop in December, 1-year-old toddler Xiong Junyi has remained in a state of unconsciousness for almost one month, able to breathe only with the aid of an oxygen tank. After many days and hours of treatment in his own home, Xiong showed no signs of improvement; and his parents subsequently decided to apply for euthanasia to be administered to him. But their request was rejected.

Dilemma

A month's worth of treatment has not brought the little boy out of his state of comatose; instead, he remains unmoving on his own. Every three hours, his mother will add some milk into the needled tubing to feed her child. Already with difficulties breathing, Xiong is often found choking, with incidents sometimes occurring only within several minutes of each other.

"Suffering from hypoxia, Xiong is deficient in both his heartbeat and breathing. If things take a further turn, Xiong is highly unlikely to recover, because hypoxia can lead to irreversible brain damage," said Xiong's chief doctor, from Anhui Provincial Children's Hospital, in January.

"We made the hard decision to leave the hospital. However, when we got home, we found that our child could not even drink milk and was only able to maintain his breath with the oxygen tank. That means our child will die from starvation if there is no improvement," said Xiong Zhengqing, the father of the child, while burying his head into his arms.

To end their son's suffering, Xiong Zhengqing and his wife applied for euthanasia. However, the hospital rejected the request, saying it would constitute illegal conduct.

"We can accept the fact that our child will eventually die from starvation. We would rather let him die peacefully, through euthanasia, than for him to endure such hardships," added Xiong, crying.

The couple did not give up and later turned to the local civil affairs bureau to plead their case, but nothing changed.

"It is truly awful to hear of your child's current condition, but Chinese-law regulations make it so that we do not have the right to strip people of their life," reaffirmed Guo Liangcheng, an official from the civil affairs bureau.

In fact, euthanasia is outright banned in China.

"As long as someone is alive, we can't deprive them of their right to survive. Euthanasia is illegal in China and will be rejected everywhere. Our bureau can help your family only by means of financial assistance," continued Guo.

China saw its first euthanasia request in 2007, in the case of Li Yan, a 29-year-old woman with terminal cancer. Conveying her message by means of a draft letter in which she applied for a peaceful death sent to the National People's Congress (NPC), while it was convening for the annual session, Li expressed that she cherished her life but could not stand her lifestyle of complete dependence and support.

Finding a Way Out

Supporters of euthanasia have indicated that the practice could in fact meet humanitarian principles, because human beings, themselves, have the right to end their own suffering.

According to a previous survey conducted by the public opinion research center at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, about 70 percent of the more than 3,400 polled residents from 34 cities across China approved the practice of such "peaceful death," or euthanasia. In addition, the majority of those polled called for specific legislation on euthanasia.

However, those opposed pointed out that the creation of a euthanasia law to make the practice legal might in fact lead to murder. They further indicated that euthanasia is an act of deliberately ending a person's life with an overdose of muscle relaxants and could be equivalent to assisted suicide.

A group of legal experts in Beijing stated on January 25 that the parents' request for euthanasia is suspected to constitute a violation of Chinese law if carried out. "The boy's suffering really tugs at his parents' heartstrings. They want to help him alleviate or even end the pain. However, the practice of euthanasia runs against the Criminal Law of the People's Republic of China and would be met with a formal accusation made by Chinese governmental authorities, asserting that Xiong's parents would have been guilty of committing intentional homicide," asserted a legal expert of the group.

"According to the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, it stipulates that the inherent or inalienable rights of its citizens, including the right of life, should be respected and safeguarded. Obviously, the practice of euthanasia conflicts with the existing Chinese law. As for the legalization of euthanasia, it would make for a tough and long-term task to fulfill in light of the current imperfect or even backward medical-care system and made especially complicated by the fact that it could easily lead to manslaughter if used improperly," said Chen Genfa, associate research fellow from the Institute of Law, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Statistics compiled in 2010 by the Netherlands — one of only four countries in which active euthanasia is legal — showed that there were roughly 3,200 people whose life was ended by euthanasia, among whom 72 percent were suspected of being murdered.

Actually, euthanasia as a concept or practice can be broken down into different classifications, namely active euthanasia and passive euthanasia as well as voluntary euthanasia, non-voluntary euthanasia and involuntary euthanasia.

Active euthanasia refers to ending someone's life deliberately — for example, by injecting them with a large dose of sedatives or a deadly combination of antibiotics — while passive euthanasia refers to letting someone die by withholding or withdrawing treatment that is necessary for him or her to stay alive, such as withholding antibiotics from someone with pneumonia.

However, no matter the type, euthanasia generally speaking is not a legal practice in China.

A researcher named Wang Kaiyu, from the Anhui Academy of Social Sciences, explained that in certain Western countries, such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland, patients could be granted a way out to end their suffering via euthanasia on the condition that their relatives, related medical clinics and social organizations had exerted all possible efforts to relieve their pain; but this applies only to minors with incurable disease.

"The situation in China is different from that of Western countries. China bears witness to an unsound medical-care system and defective euthanasia legislation throughout the whole country. In most cases, a shortage of funds for medical care is the main reason that people choose the practice of euthanasia, not their worry of an allegedly incurable disease. Therefore, the approval of a euthanasia law will be met by an overwhelming and unfortunate number of cases in which poverty-stricken sufferers would opt for peaceful death for financial reasons," continued Wang, whose views and insight on euthanasia has won support from a number sociologists specializing in the Chinese social welfare system.

(Source: China.huanqiu.com/Translated and edited by Women of China)

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