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Proposal for “Nationwide Death Education” in China Sparks Calls to Allow Euthanasia

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One of China’s biggest political events, the annual “Two Sessions” meetings, are rumbling on in Beijing this week. And while they’re mostly about rubber stamping leader-approved policies and plans, there is a small, tightly-controlled window in which citizens apparently get to “petition” the ruling authorities with ideas.

Anyone with a “petition” that might remotely threaten the Party’s grip on power isn’t allowed anywhere near proceedings, but the process can sometimes throw up some interesting (albeit confined) debate nonetheless. Case in point: the hashtag “Suggesting the development of nationwide death education” is currently trending on prominent Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo, with 130 million views.

death education euthanasia china

“Death education” is currently a hot topic on Weibo

As many people gear up to visit relatives’ graves for China’s annual Tomb Sweeping Festival next month, a Beijing-based physician has caused a stir by suggesting that the whole country is in need of “death education” and that conversations around death should begin in primary school. Gu Jin, Chief Physician at Peking University Cancer Hospital, has said that Chinese people need to learn to, “respect death to respect life”.

A Beijing News Weibo post on the proposal has been “liked” tens of thousands of times and received thousands of comments, many of them supportive of tackling what Sixth Tone has called “China’s biggest taboo“. Numerous users suggested the policy be implemented along with wider-ranging education in other “essential areas”:

“China lacks three kinds of education: sex education, love education, and death education,” wrote user Bakala. “These three concepts correspond to the three fulcrums of life: making the body complete, the soul abundant, and learning the value of life.”

But the proposal has also caused considerable debate around euthanasia. The Chinese term for allowing those with terminal illnesses to choose the timing of their own death appears in many of the highest-rated comments on the Beijing News post. By far the most-liked reply (with 15,000 “likes” at time of writing) to the story argues strongly in favor of making assisted suicide legal.

“We should actively open the door to euthanasia, so that patients who are helpless can choose their own way of leaving!” says Chidian Daochang. “Just like advanced cancer, daily chemotherapy — patients suffer, loved ones suffer. […] As a doctor, knowing that there is no medicine to save them, why let the patient suffer further, and create more suffering for the family?”

Euthanasia has become a hot topic in China of late. In January, newspaper Hangzhou Daily published a piece by Guo Jing, a judge who had just sentenced three people to up to five years in prison each after they were charged with murder for assisting the death of a woman suffering from an autoimmune disease. “If the defendant is given a mild penalty, society might mistake it as an encouragement of such acts. If they are given a heavy penalty, it defies the spirit of prudence and kindness,” the judge wrote, according to SCMP.

Assisted suicide remains a criminal offence in China.

Cover photo: A shop in Shanghai selling offerings for the deceased.

Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for publications such as South China Morning Post and the Financial Times.