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Death in Hubei sparks debate on ethics

Updated: 2011-09-05 06:44

By An Baijie (China Daily)

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BEIJING - The death in Central China's Hubei province of an old man, who lay helpless on a downtown street amid a crowd for about 90 minutes, has drawn public concern over social ethics.

The 88-year-old man surnamed Li collapsed face-first on the ground as he headed home after buying bananas at a market in Wuhan at about 7 am on Friday.

The man was surrounded by numerous bystanders but none offered to help, according to the Wuhan-based Chutian Metropolis Daily.

An eyewitness surnamed Yi, who was selling lotus seed pods near the market, said that the old man tried unsuccessfully to stand up.

Nearly one and a-half hours later, his wife and son arrived and took him to the local Hanyang Hospital. The man was pronounced dead from suffocation caused by a nosebleed that had blocked his airway.

He could have survived if someone had offered help, such as turning him "around to prevent the nosebleed from choking him", his wife was quoted as saying by local media.

His son said he was baffled by the spectators' lack of sympathy. "Is there anyone who dares to offer a hand after seeing an old person fall down? Is the virtue of helping others lost so easily?"

The incident has been discussed on micro blogs, with netizens questioning whether to offer a hand in such a circumstance.

On Aug 26, a bus driver helped an 81-year-old woman who fell over on an overpass in Rugao in East China's Jiangsu province. The woman later called the police and claimed that the bus driver had run her over. The police checked the video camera on the bus and found that the woman was lying.

"Do you have to bring a video camera when you do something good?" asked an article in the People's Daily after the event.

"Saving others is difficult, and saving the old women is more difficult," commented Bai Yansong, a renowned anchor for China Central Television, in a report on the incident.

Xia Jinluan, a sociologist at Peking University, said that public indifference in a case like that of the elderly Li reflected distrust among people.

"It will take a long time for society to rebuild the frayed relationships among the people," Xia told China Daily. "In the past, society highlighted justice" but now people put their own interests first.

In November 2006, a 65-year-old woman in Nanjing, Jiangsu province fell over while trying to get on a bus. She was helped up by a man named Peng Yu, who was accused later by the woman of pushing her down.

In that case, a court noted that Peng was the first person to get off the bus, meaning it was possible that he had knocked the woman over. It therefore ordered Peng to pay the woman 45,876 yuan ($7,200) to cover her medical costs stemming from the accident.

On March 5, the South China Normal University (SCNU) set up a foundation to deal with the risks of helping the elderly in difficult situations.

More more than 60 lawyers volunteered to provide counsel to those who had gotten into trouble for helping the elderly.

The foundation has handled three cases, but the clients in two cases eventually gave up claiming innocence through legal channels, said Tan Fang, who helped set up the foundation. Tan is also a professor at SCNU.

"Society lacks a mechanism to protect those who would like to help the elderly, and those who support the old with a hand might be sued and misjudged like Peng Yu," Tan told China Daily.

China Daily

(China Daily 09/05/2011 page5)


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