08/17/2006, 00.00
HONG KONG
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"Immoral" bid to introduce euthanasia

The Law Reform Commission wants to suggest to terminally ill people that they sign a declaration about their willingness to die. Patients' NGOs have hit out at the recommendation, saying it is merely an "immoral" form of euthanasia.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/SCMP) – It is "morally wrong" to suggest to patients to state in writing that they may allowed to die if they become comatose or are in terminal stages of their illness, said patients' groups in Hong Kong.

The Law Reform Commission of Hong Kong yesterday "indicated" that someone who is seriously ill may draw up a written directive to be allowed to die if he cannot live without artificial aid and can no longer take decisions. But NGOs for the safeguarding of patients' rights said this was a hidden form of euthanasia. The "sweet death" is forbidden by law in Hong Kong and even if a sick person asks for it, the family can oppose it and prosecute doctors who apply the patient's wishes. Doctors are also unhappy about the situation, because they would have preferred clear and unequivocal directions about their duties.

Cheung Tak-hai, chairman of the Alliance of Patients' Organisation which represents 37 groups, said this regulation "is no different from euthanasia" and could weaken patients' "will to live".

"Recovery from many illnesses, such as cancer, depends on the patient's own spirit. If they sign this, they will give up," he said. "Coma patients have a chance of waking up and should be given continuous treatment. If they allow doctors to take them off life-sustaining devices and cause death, there will be a lot of legal disputes between hospitals and families."

There were concerns, he continued, that this move may have been willed by the hospital authorities as a cost-cutting measure to remove long-stay or comatose patients.

The sister of Tsang Kwan-fan, a patient in a coma at the Caritas Hospital, agreed. She said: "It is very clear that they do not want to waste resources on treating patients in comas or vegetative states. The new device leads patients to choose death. It is morally wrong. It treats life as worthless."

Tim Pang Hung-cheong, a social worker of the Patients Rights Association, said his group was concerned that patients might not understand the medical terms involved and their exact situation.

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