China is debating legalising euthanasia or assisted death.

China is debating legalising euthanasia or assisted death after a group of legislators argued for it this week during a review of a draft amendment to the country’s civil laws. Euthanasia is illegal in China but it has been discussed sporadically in government, medical and legal circles. The discussion seems to be picking up pace with the revised draft sections to be part of a draft civil code and submitted to the National People’s Congress’ plenary session in March 2020.

Li Jie, a deputy to the NPC, China’s top legislature, told state media many cancer patients in the terminal stages feel acute pain and would choose euthanasia if available, so it should be legalised to protect human dignity. Ma Yide, another NPC deputy who made the same suggestion during the review, said the law should allow some people the right to euthanasia.

Patients who are determined by doctors as having incurable diseases and whose pain cannot be relieved should have the right to make their own decisions to receive euthanasia. Strict procedures should be followed to protect their rights, including written consent submitted to authorities for approval before euthanasia should be performed at certified medical institutions.

The National Health Commission had said in a statement released earlier this year that many difficulties surround the legalisation even though performing euthanasia can help relieve unbearable pain for patients in the terminal stages of the disease, and help reduce the burden on their family and society. After many years of debate the timing for legalising euthanasia in China is becoming ripe.

We must recognise that the legalization of euthanasia cannot be rushed. At present, almost all the countries that allow euthanasia — including the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and Canada — also possess highly developed economies and strong welfare systems.

Zhang is a bioethics expert at one of China’s leading hospitals and research centres, Peking Union Medical College. “China’s own medical system is not up to those standards. Many Chinese scholars and members of the public alike worry that if euthanasia is legalised in our country, patients will feel pressured to undergo the procedure for financial reasons, such as an inability to afford their medical bills,” Zhang said.