Last year, a cancer patient desperate to end her life asked her husband and a close friend to run her over with a car. Now, a public prosecutor in eastern China’s Jiangsu province has charged the two men with intentional homicide, The Beijing News reported Saturday.
The 45-year-old patient, whom police have given the pseudonym Wu Min, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2008 and had been undergoing chemotherapy since 2014. In May 2017, she tried to kill herself by ingesting pesticide. Upon recovering, she begged her friend to hit her with a car.
Wu’s husband, Wang Bin, had reportedly asked the driver, Wu’s friend Xu Hongwei, to “do it hard so she won’t be left half dead.”
In China, assisted suicide is treated as homicide. For “relatively minor” circumstances, however, more lenient penalties can be administered: In this case, the prosecutor has recommended prison sentences of two to three years for Xu and one to two years for Wang. The Jurong Municipal People’s Court has yet to announce a verdict.
Presented during the trial was a letter Wu had written before the incident: “I’m in so much pain,” it read. “I want to find someone to kill me with a car.” Wang, who was married to Wu for over 30 years, had promised Xu that his family wouldn’t press charges against him for helping, and offered him part of Wu’s life insurance payout.
Dash cam footage recorded on June 15, 2017, shows Wu slowly walk into the road before being struck by the car. Xu can be seen reversing the vehicle to run over Wu’s body again. Afterward, he reported the incident to police as an accident.
Wu was taken to the hospital, where she tried to refuse medical treatment — but the police argued that because the case was being treated as a traffic accident, she could not be denied care. Her condition deteriorated, and her family took her home. Four days after the crash, she was pronounced dead of multiple organ failure from the metastasizing cancer. According to an autopsy, the collision only had a “slight impact” on her death.
Netizens have been generally sympathetic toward Wu, Xu, and Wang. “Euthanasia [should be] exempt from punishment,” reads one upvoted comment under an article about the case. “Living can be worse than dying.”
Debate over whether assisted suicide should be legal in China has persisted for years. In the absence of the right to take one’s own life, some have sought solutions abroad: On Q&A forum Zhihu, for example, there is a question titled “What countries can Chinese go to for euthanasia?” And in 2006, a 19-year-old Chinese woman with liver cancer requested, and received, medically assisted suicide while she was studying in the Netherlands — the first country to legalize the practice.
While religious taboos against suicide are a major obstacle to Western countries when it comes to accepting euthanasia, the concerns in China are generally legal in nature: In executing the will, for example, it may be necessary to prove that the deceased was not pressured by family members or influenced by domestic disputes.
The first assisted suicide case to attract national attention in China took place in 1986. Pu Liansheng, a doctor in the northwestern province of Shaanxi, administered a lethal injection to a woman with severe cirrhosis at the behest of the patient’s son, Wang Mingcheng. Wang’s sister filed a lawsuit against Pu and her brother, and the two were arrested under suspicion of intentional homicide. Both men were acquitted in 1992.
Wang unexpectedly made headlines again in 2003 when he publicly requested to be euthanized himself. He died after a battle with gastric cancer, his petition still unapproved. When the doctor, Pu, was interviewed the same year about having helped a patient die, he said he had not expected to be punished and regretted his decision.
While assisted suicide remains prohibited in China, the government and NGOs are making strides to help people die with dignity by improving access to hospice facilities and end-of-life care. Since 1987, when the country’s first hospice center opened in Beijing, some 150 organizations providing end-of-life care have sprouted up, according to the Beijing Living Will Promotion Association.
Founded in 2013 by Luo Diandian and Chen Xiaolu, both the progeny of famous military commanders, the NGO encourages people to write living wills specifying what kind of treatment they do or don’t want should they become incapacitated.
In 2015, Chen told financial news outlet Caixin, that he had been inspired to start the association after witnessing his own father’s last days fighting against bowel cancer.
“I asked the doctor if it was possible not to resuscitate him,” Chen said, recalling how his father’s body had leaped from the bed with each electric shock from the defibrillator. Chen thought it was futile to try and save his father, but the medical staff had other ideas: “The doctor said, ‘First, is it up to you? And second, how would we dare?’”
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: Taxi/VCG)