--First patient fails to die an easy death

¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡Wang Mingcheng in hospital.

In China, the definition of euthanasia given by Chinese scholars is: the whole process of allowing patients on the verge of death with incurable disease and sustain extreme pains spiritually and bodily to tide over the death stage and end life by artificial means upon the request of the patients or their families and with the consent of doctors. But in China, euthanasia has not been legalized.

In 1986, Wang Mingcheng asked the doctor to execute China¡¯s first Euthanasia on his suffering mother. But the police arrested him and the doctor who took his order. Six years later, the Supreme People¡¯s Court declared them not guilty.

In 2003, Wang Mingcheng was laid down with a stomach cancer, without a possibility of a cure. He asked the hospital to give him euthanasia, but was refused. In the end, he died in great torment.

Wang¡¯s death has left a much disputed issue to medial and legal experts.


Wang Mingcheng became a worker of the Shaanxi No. 3 Dyeing Mill in 1975 and married in 1980. He lived a happy life with his wife and a son. Suddenly on the morning of October 4, 1984, a telegraph flew into his home, telling him to hurry to Xi¡¯an to see his dying mother, who was laid down with ascites due to cirrhosis. Seeing his mother suffer, he asked for a long leave to attend her.

In 1986, his mother¡¯s conditions were getting worse. By June she began to suffer from bed sore, edema of lower extremity, swollen abdomen, incontinence of urine and bowel and in the end was thrown into a coma. At noon on June 12, his mother suddenly woke up, taking off her gold ring and giving it to Wang, saying that she could not endure any longer. So saying, she relapsed into a coma again. Wang cried. But seeing the situation, he thought that continued treatment could only add to her sufferings.

On the morning of June 25, Wang Mingcheng and his sister asked the doctor about the possibility of a cure of their mother and the doctor told them that it was hopeless. Wang asked the doctor whether or not it was possible to adopt some measures to let her die easily so as to spare her the torment. But the doctor said no, because there was not a law about euthanasia. Three days later, Wang came to the doctor¡¯s office again, asking him to give euthanasia to his mother. Again the doctor refused, saying that if he did not want to continue the treatment, he could take the patient home. At once, Wang knelt down before the doctor, pleading him to accept his request and promising to undertake all legal consequences. Touched by his move, the doctor had to accept the request tacitly. He wrote out a prescription, with the note that it was requested by the family of the patient and Wang signed the prescription. On the morning of June 29, Wang¡¯s mother took the medicine and died an easy death. She was the first patient in China who died this way.

Not guilty

On July 1, 1986, Wang¡¯s two other sisters asked the hospital to compensate for the medical fees and burial expenses on the pretext that mistreatment caused their mother¡¯s death, but they were refused. They then went on to bring the charge against the doctor for deliberate killing. On September 20, the doctor, another doctor and Wang Mingcheng were detained for interrogation. (The system of detention for interrogation as a mandatory administrative measure was abolished in the criminal procedure law revised in 1996).

Wang¡¯s two sisters intended to ask for some compensation but did not expect that their brother was detained. They regretted for the move and asked for revoking the charges. But the law enforcement agencies refused on account that it was a public prosecution case.

In September 1987, the doctor and Wang Mingcheng were arrested on charges of deliberate killing. On February 8, 1988, they were prosecuted and on April 6, 1991, the people¡¯s court of Hanzhong City declared them not guilty. The People¡¯s Procuratorate of Hanzhong City refused to accept the court decision and protested. The intermediate court of the city refuted the protest and upheld the original judgment.

The first ¡°euthanasia case¡± thus came to an end. Wang Mingcheng, who had been detained for six years, was released in the end.

Easy death

On November 3, 2000, Wang Mingcheng was diagnosed as having contracted with stomach cancer. He had a surgery ten days later but after one year, the cancer cells were found to have moved into the kidney and Wang was found to have a number of other troubles, including heart trouble and bronchitis. Wang minced at money and refused to go to the hospital again. But he was forced into the hospital by his wife on January 7, 2003. Wang was quite clear in his mind that his cancer case had gone beyond cure.

On February 4, he quietly requested the hospital to execute euthanasia on him.

Learning about this, his wife flatly refused. But his case was getting more and more serious. Coming into June, he could hardly stand the pain. The doctor gave him the strongest painkiller, but to no avail.

Wang thought of easy death again. But his wife refused, saying that she could not do that, reminding Wang of his mother¡¯s case. But Wang told her that he could hardly stand it and that for one more day he lived, it meant one more day of sufferings. He added that easy death could not only relieve his sufferings but also enable him to donate organs for the benefit of other incurable cases.

On June 5, Wang asked the hospital to execute euthanasia and told the hospital that he was the son of the first easy death case in China. The hospital asked him to write an application, and submitted the application to departments concerned. But the reply was: there is no such a law in China and the hospital should not execute euthanasia. On August 3, Wang stopped breathing in great torment.

His death has left a big disputed subject: euthanasia.

Pro & Con

The news took wings and has aroused concerns from all quarters, some people for it and some against it.

Those who support euthanasia hold that easy death is good to both families and the society alike. Lawyer Zhu Xiwu who got the best defense award from Shaanxi provincial government for defending the first euthanasia case, said that Wang Mingcheng was a filial son. It was out of love for his mother that he asked the hospital to do euthanasia. Now Wang himself asked for easy death just because he loved himself and loved his family. The laws of other countries all provide that the applicant for easy death must be the patient himself. With the development of science and technology, especially biomedicine, people have injected a new idea into death. The study of birth, one end of life, gives rise to eugenics. The study of death, the other end of life, has touched off rational discussions, that is, whether or not people have the right to opt for death, that is, to take dear the value of life and maintain dignity in the last moment of life.

Legal expert Wang Honglin, who studied and got involved in Wang¡¯s case and saw Wang on many occasions, said that euthanasia is beneficial to the society. Superficially, easy death is death caused by man, but it is essentially different from deliberate killing as defined in the criminal law. What euthanasia seeks is not the result of death because death is a foregone conclusion, but the ending of sufferings before death by artificial means, that is, it means an option for the ways and means that end life. This is a new idea and also the re-understanding of life and death. So, easy death is not harmful to the society.

But most people do not buy Wang Mingcheng¡¯s thought. Doctor Li, who treated Wang, said that Wang had asked for relief on many occasions, but he was firmly opposed to it. He said that the God-given duty of a doctor is to do as much as possible to alleviate the pains of patients and prolong life. How can a doctor help a patient to end his life?

Associate Professor Wang Ji of the Shaanxi Normal University, who is also a council member of the China Society for the Study of Sociology, said that in China¡¯s traditional moral concept, living, even if painful, is the biggest respect for life. Wang¡¯s idea about easy death is, at least, for the present, unacceptable morally in China, let alone by law. Even in highly developed countries, only a few allow the use of euthanasia to end life.

Lawyer Zhang Qian of the Qianyuan Zhaoyi Law Firm in Henan Province holds that there is not the legal basis for euthanasia in China and it is difficult to differentiate euthanasia and deliberate killing. The current law of China forbids any person to ¡°deprive others of their lives.¡± If the doctor really ended Wang¡¯s life by using drugs, it is entirely possible for the doctor to be charged with ¡°deliberate killing¡± or he is likely to receive administrative or legal punishment and denunciation by the public opinion.

Wang Suizhu, Ph.D of medicine at the People¡¯s Hospital in Henan Province, said that Euthanasia is a Greek word, meaning easy death or dignified death. In English, it means the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy. In China, the definition given by Chinese scholars is: the whole process of allowing patients on the verge of death with incurable disease and sustain extreme pains spiritually and bodily to tide over the death stage and end life by artificial means upon the request of the patients or their families and with the consent of doctors. But in China, euthanasia has not been legalized.


China Society For Human Rights Studies
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