July 13, 2009

Hong Kong: A pioneering television show airing in Hong Kong next month hopes to break one of the biggest taboos in Chinese society - euthanasia. The weekly programme will feature debates and euthanasia cases from around the world. Associated with the series, which will be streamed live on the internet, will be an online "will bank" where members of the public can say how they want their lives to end - including whether they want assisted suicide. They can choose whether to let the public, and their doctors, read their wishes or restrict them to family. "The show is not to advocate that euthanasia is right, or legalise it, but for people to talk about it," said television veteran Robert Chua, founder of the Health and Lifestyle Channel producing the show, Euthanasia?. Euthanasia is illegal in Hong Kong, and in most other places. Only five countries - Thailand, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium and Switzerland - and the US states of Washington and Oregon have legalised some forms of euthanasia. A survey of doctors and the general public in Hong Kong 10 years ago found support for legalising euthanasia. Two-thirds of 618 members of the public questioned said mercy killings should not be unlawful, and 60 per cent supported active euthanasia - such as by lethal injection. Doctors were similarly supportive of mercy killing, but much less supportive of active euthanasia. The survey researchers recommended the government create a forum to initiate discussion on euthanasia. But 10 years on, nothing has changed. The series' producer, Lancelot Chan Wing-tai, hopes it will provide a platform for people to discuss it. Euthanasia shot onto the public agenda five years ago when quadriplegic Tang Siu-pun, known as "Ah Bun", wrote to the then chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, pleading for the right to die. "People pretend such a problem doesn't exist and avoid talking about it," Mr Tang said. "If all you can do is lie in bed and look at the ceiling, what does that mean to you? Why can't people die peacefully with dignity?" His letter and subsequent media appearances ignited discussion of euthanasia, but it soon cooled. Kwong Kwok-hay, deputy medical superintendent of the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital, laments the city's extreme conservatism on the issue. He said that even if someone stated that they did not want artificial support if they fell unconscious, doctors dared not take action if their family objected. Mr Chua favours allowing euthanasia. "I have been to ... hospital. I have seen people being kept alive for the sake of it. But some people just can't take the pain and suffering from a serious illness," he said. Democratic Party lawmaker Wong Sing-chi, a Christian who has spoken out against euthanasia, said it was always good to have rational discussion of the subject. But he feared the show might encourage viewers who were depressed to think about killing themselves. Another lawmaker, Paul Tse Wai-chun, who is a lawyer, doubted there would be a legal challenge to the TV show and online "will bank". The show begins airing on Cable TV on August 9.