Living wills enliven debate about death

Updated: 2016-11-03 07:58

By Liu Zhihua(China Daily)

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Living wills enliven debate about death

An elderly man chats with a nurse at the hospice. Photos By Zhang Yu / Xinhua

"Mother was very insightful. She knew that medical treatment could only delay her death at best, but she would have to live in pain. She was very brave and decided not to cling to such a painful life," Cui said, adding that she and her husband, also a retiree, have decided to refuse life-prolonging measures if they contract a terminal illness.

For Shao Hua, a resident of Nanchang in Jiangxi province, living wills make things easier for families.

The 62-year-old cited the example of her husband, who had a stroke in May. He is now recovering, despite complications, including loss of speech. However, if his condition had been more acute, Shao would have struggled to decide whether to abandon life-support measures, despite the fact that she and her husband had already agreed that living in vegetative state would be worse than death.

"If he had been brain dead, I would have allowed him to die with dignity, rather than feeding him via a tube, but I could never be 100 percent sure that he would have agreed with my decision. If he had made a living will, I would have known his thoughts," she said.

Shao has now made her own living will, and will discuss the matter with her husband when his condition has improved further.

Painless and dignified

The results of a survey jointly conducted by the association and the news app Toutiao in September showed that 85 percent of the 1,000 respondents believed they were the best person to make important decisions about their treatment. Meanwhile, more than 90 percent said they would want a painless, dignified death in the event of contracting a terminal illness, and about 83 percent said they would make the same decision on behalf of family members.

For Zhang Xiaoxi, a civil servant in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, a peaceful, painless, dignified death would be the most desirable exit from the world. The 50-year-old civil servant, who said she has been contemplating death since the age of 30, made a living will earlier this year, after hearing about the association in Beijing.

There is no comparable organization in Hangzhou, but people in the city are becoming increasingly open-minded about discussing death and living wills, Zhang said.

She noted that a few years ago, a doctor in the city attracted national attention after it emerged that he had allowed his father, who had advanced cancer, to live out the last months of his life quietly in the countryside, instead of insisting on time-consuming, painful chemotherapy in the hospital.

Instead of criticizing the son, most people showed sympathy and understanding, even though his behavior would have been regarded as unfilial in days gone by, she said.

However, the association's Luo said there is still a long way to go before the idea is widely accepted.