Families of China’s political elite and senior Communist Party leaders are now fighting for a more unusual cause: the right for their seniors to die with dignity. Failure to take every measure possible to keep these people alive is considered shameful and is often confused with euthanasia in China. As a result, the elite are given every possible treatment to prolong their lives, despite it not being their final wishes.
New Group Efforts
Children and grandchildren of some of China’s highest ranking officials have come together to discuss the issue of dying with dignity. Many recall family members that spent their final days strapped to machines and tubes instead of living out that time peacefully at home. The group’s goal is to help patients in China say no to certain types of medical interventions and instead seek palliative care.
For the last nine years the group has promoted the use of living wills in China, and recently the group has provided the funds to train medical professionals on how to give end-of-life support to the terminally ill. The group is supported by medical experts, social celebrities, and from the family members of the political elite.
China and Issues with Death
According to an article published by the Asia Pacific Journal of Health Management in 2013, patients in China are encouraged to believe that scientific medicine can cure all diseases. “Some Chinese people do not like saying words like death or dying as they believe it will then happen.” Across China, end-of-life discussions are becoming more crucial because over 200 million citizens are currently over the age of sixty. In addition, more than three million new cases of cancer are purported every year.
Ordinary Chinese citizens face a very different issue then the political elite: hospital bills quickly surpass their life savings, forcing them to go home and die in discomfort without professional care. “What we do now is, if you have money we resuscitate and torment you until you die, and if you don’t have money you simply wait to die,” said the president of the Beijing Living Will Promotion Association. “Neither is right. Both are inhumane, and they can’t reflect your dignity.”
Developing Death with Dignity
Natural death has not been a choice for many of the country’s top political leaders. One leader’s child recounted that “”It’s a political issue, because my father was a political figure . . . so his life and death were decided by the party.” Unfortunately, many Chinese health professionals lack the training to provide pain control and palliative care. The World Health Organization defines palliative care as an approach meant to improve the quality of life for terminally ill patients by treating the pain and using other psychosocial methods; however, it is not meant to either hasten or postpone death.
In China, the Communist Party may pick up the hospital bill after a senior official dies as part of their job benefits. Palliative care has the ability to redistribute resources in the Chinese overburdened healthcare system because spending millions of yuan on one official is money that ordinary people do not have access to.