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Asian Euthanasia - Exit Opinion 20Aug09

I have just returned from a week in SE Asia at the invitation of Mr Robert Chua, Founder and Chairman of the Hong Kong based Health and Lifestyle Chanel. While in Hong Kong to appear on the inaugural episode of the new weekly “Dignified Departure” program an interactive Health and Lifestyle Channel forum on voluntary euthanasia, I took the opportunity to participate in a number of other engagements. At my presentation to journalists at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondent Club, the first questions I was asked was 'Are there any cultural differences that impact on the work of Exit International in Asia?”'

This is not a simple question.

On a weekly basis, Exit receives letters from people all over Asia, and in particularly from mainland China and Hong Kong. Their questions are largely the same as those  asked by people by people in the west.

“I have cancer and things are worsening. How can I get Nembutal, in case things become intolerable?”

And this was one of the reasons why I was so keen to visit Hong Kong, to explore the issue here, find out who it was who were asking these questions, and to investigate the relevance of Exit International in Asia.

The Chairman of Health & Lifestyle channel, Mr Robert Chua is a visionary television entrepreneur who is developing cross-media technologies to explore a range of important ethical and social issues. This innovative channel feeds interactive content for cable TV, mobile phone and internet access. The cable component is scheduled to be fed (as soon as it is cleared by censors) into 10 million homes in mainland China.

In “Dignified Departure”, a video link enabled the participation of Debby Purdy from the UK.  Others participating in the studio were Dr Chan Yee Shing (Vice Presidents, Hong Kong Medical Association)  and Mr. Kan Pak Kei (Vice-Chairman, The Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong).  It was disappointing that Hong Kong Hospice elected to boycott the event.

While Debbie and I fail to see eye to eye on several key aspects of the global move towards practical voluntary euthanasia, we are united on a number of other important points during the hour long debate.  I would even dare to say we complemented each other's presentation.

Another important innovation of Robert Chua, launched while I was in Hong Kong, is a website that acts as a repository for video records of people’s advance directives and living wills.

I can see this YouTube-style video library of advance directives of people from around the world will play an important part in establishing a viable accessible global record of one's end of life wishes. Exit International fully supports this initiative and will encourage the use of the Euthanasia Will Bank in future newsletters - see: www.euthanasiawillbank.com

There was considerable media interest in the Hong Kong tour, and much focused on my meeting with two significantly disabled people who want the right to die, Mr Tang Siu-pun and Mr Choi. It was interesting that the particular circumstances of Mr Choi - a 57 year old Chinese quadriplegic - were identical to the situation of Chris Rossiter in Western Australia. Mr Choi's options are the same as Chris' - either starve to death or undertake the difficult journey half way around the world to Switzerland.

Although most of the media reports on the visit were in Chinese language, there were detailed accounts in the English language South China Morning Post, and Hong Kong Standard. Another significant English presentation of the issues raised by this visit was in a 15 minute interview with Bernie Lo of the Bloomberg 'Asian Confidential' program.  In this television segment, which is telecast globally, I presented the pro-choice argument in a debate with Dr Cynthia Goh from Singapore Hospice and palliative Care. Questions were fielded from across several continents.

However, back to the original question asked by a BBC journalist at the Foreign Correspondents' Club.  Is there a specific ”Asian perspective” that will influence Exit International’s program in this part of the world? After four intense days in Hong Kong I was finally in a position to answer.

Philip Nitschke,

Darwin  20Aug09