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2018-06-14 10:53:25

Nine months after Leng Yan was poisoned to death in eastern China, three of her family members were found guilty of intentional homicide, local media reported Thursday.

On June 1, a district court in Zhejiang province sentenced Leng’s husband, son-in-law, and daughter to three, three, and two years in prison, respectively. All three sentences were suspended for up to five years — meaning the family members will only go to jail if they fall foul of the law again during their probationary periods. The local report changed Leng’s name to protect her family’s privacy.

According to China’s criminal law, intentional homicide is punishable by death in serious cases or as little as three years in relatively minor cases. Leng’s case fell into the latter category because of some extenuating circumstances: She had severe lupus, a potentially fatal autoimmune disorder. Her immediate family had borrowed money from relatives to pay for medical consultations in Hangzhou, Beijing, and Wuhan, hoping to find an effective treatment.

But Leng’s condition continued to deteriorate, leaving her partially paralyzed and prone to spells of dizziness. The pain in her joints was so great that she couldn’t sleep, her family members told police. A slip and a fall in June 2017 seemed to be the last straw: Leng found herself immobile and in constant pain. She pleaded with her family to buy her some rat poison and allow her to end her life. “Staying alive is suffering,” she said, according to the suspects’ statements to police.

After repeated entreaties, the woman’s son-in-law purchased the poison in late August. The family of four gathered for breakfast, and Leng drank the liquid poison in the company of her loved ones. She passed away a few hours later.

“Their guilt cannot be forgiven, but the pain and the struggle they experienced are worthy of sympathy,” Xia Qiaohua, the judge who presided over the case, was quoted as saying.

As early as 1988, gynecologist Yan Renying and pediatrician Hu Yamei — both leading experts in their fields — implored China’s policymakers to legalize euthanasia. “It’s natural for people to get sick and die,” they wrote in a joint proposal. “It’s better to allow the terminally ill to choose to end their lives in a peaceful way than leave them tortured by pain.”

Although palliative care services for the terminally ill have gradually emerged in large cities like Beijing and Shanghai in recent years, euthanasia remains illegal in China. As a consequence, the country occasionally sees ethically complex cases like Leng’s.

In April, two men in Jiangsu, another eastern province, were given comparable suspended sentences for killing a woman at her request by running her over with a car. In similar previously reported cases, too, plaintiffs have been convicted of intentional homicide but given lenient sentences, generally ranging from three to five years’ probation.

On Tuesday, the deceased woman’s family left Taizhou — the city in Zhejiang they’ve called home for 15 years — and returned to their hometown in central Hubei province, in compliance with the court’s orders. They will register with their local police station and be closely monitored in the coming years.

“Don’t play cards, and definitely don’t gamble — and don’t even think about having a drink before driving,” the public prosecutor admonished Leng’s son-in-law.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Canopy/VCG)