Honour Tang Siu-pun with euthanasia debate, not pity

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 December, 2012, 3:06am

There is something indecent about even talking about Tang Siu-pun, the quadriplegic and euthanasia advocate who died on Sunday aged 43. Before the enormity of his suffering and loneliness, you can only be humbled and shut up.

So this column will not be about Tang, but our collective responses to his plight.

By the way, he is Mr Tang to you and me, not Ah Bun or Bun Chai, as in "little Bun", which is the way many newspapers and television news reports inevitably addressed him. That's what you would call a child or someone younger or socially inferior but towards whom you may feel close or affectionate. Most of us don't even know him.

We can now feel sadness at his passing, but congratulate ourselves for the kindness and generosity we have collectively showered on him to make him see the light and turn his mind away from seeking death.

We are such nice and good people that through our kindness, we have successfully buried and forgotten what Mr Tang had asked, no, pleaded with us to re-examine: the value of a human life; how it is to be realised or may fail to be realised; and whether there are circumstances under which a patient should have the right to choose death.

There was a brief, heated debate about euthanasia after he wrote to lawmakers and then-chief executive Tung Chee-hwa in 2003 asking for a medically assisted death.

Then, religious and charity groups, do-gooders and bleeding hearts all came out of the woods to offer help and make him see the light or God or hope or … in one case, Mickey and Minnie Mouse in Disneyland - for a man in his mid-30s! Pity is easily mistaken for generosity.

All the attention, though, did help improve his living conditions and equipment. But it didn't end his call for euthanasia as a legal and moral right, as he published his 300-page Chinese-language book I Demand Euthanasia in 2007.

Euthanasia, of course, is a hot potato that our doctors, health officials and politicians will avoid at all cost. So you have to wonder whether all our kindness is not an indirect way of telling Mr Tang to shut up and not trouble our conscience. We should take the occasion of his passing to reopen this debate to honour his legacy.