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Chinese Doctor Fights for Right of Terminally Ill to Die

Medicine: Euthanasia is widely supported in cities, but in countryside it jars with Confucian tradition.

July 14, 1996|MAGGIE FARLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The cases have a certain resonance for Wu, who watched his wife--they met when both were medical students--die a protracted, painful death 10 years ago.

"The last few months were extremely miserable," he says. "The doctors taking care of her wouldn't believe me that she'd rather not go through it. They believed their duty was to prolong her life. But really they just prolonged her suffering."

And how does he square the idea of euthanasia not only with Confucian teaching but with the Hippocratic oath he took upon becoming a doctor? He paraphrases it--"Do your duty, relieve suffering and do no harm"--but adds: "Medicine cannot be completely harmless. To perform surgery, you're cutting and destroying something but doing it for the greater good." Euthanasia can be viewed as the ultimate cure, he says.

Still, it is an option to be offered with great restraint, Wu stresses, as he describes patients who were deemed incurable by country doctors and then cured by simple operations in the Shanghai hospital.

Other observers fear abuse of the option--for example, by patients made to feel burdensome by their relatives or the state. A law providing for euthanasia was briefly considered in 1994, but the measure was never approved.

"Maybe it will happen in my lifetime," Wu says. "But I'm not going to stick around longer than I have to."

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