A court sentenced a teenager to life in prison on Friday for killing a medical intern and stabbing three other workers at a northeastern Chinese hospital, in a case seen as a symptom of frustration over a dysfunctional health care system.
The attack by Li Mengnan was part of a recent spate of violence by patients against medical staff that has alarmed the government.
A court in the northeastern city of Harbin found Li guilty of intentional homicide and sentenced him on Friday morning, his uncle, Li Chunming, told reporters by phone. The court decided against a death sentence because he is not yet 18, the age of adulthood in China.
Li Mengnan, 17, randomly attacked medical staff with a fruit knife on March 23 after accusing a doctor of refusing to provide treatment for a chronic spinal condition. He killed 28-year-old medical intern Wang Hao and injured three others.
Security officials detained Li in the hospital emergency room, where he was seeking treatment for injuries he suffered in the attack.
Li told state broadcaster CCTV after he was detained that he had become frustrated with the hospital.
“My grandpa and I have been travelling to the hospitals many times with a lot of money spent and efforts paid, but I felt the doctors were just deliberately making things difficult,” Li said.
Li had been represented by a well-known rights lawyer, Li Fangping, who argued in his defence that Li was driven to violence by an earlier misdiagnosis that worsened his condition. Li Chunming said he was not sure if Li would appeal the sentencing, which included an order that Li’s family pay 680,000 yuan (US$110,000) in compensation to the victim’s family.
The victim’s father, Wang Dongqing, said in a phone interview that the outcome of the case was as he had hoped.
“From a legal perspective, the court’s decision was fair. But in my heart, it is still unfair. My son was taken from me. Even if they had sentenced him to death it would have been unfair,” Wang said.
Despite the Chinese government injecting more than US240 billion of extra funding into health care over the past three years, the doctor-patient relationship has continued to break down. Doctors are overworked and underpaid, and many push drug sales or charge extra for services to make more money. Patients are faced with high medical expenses, brief consultations and often poor quality care.
Hospitals frequently become sites for protests by family members of patients who have died while undergoing treatment, often regardless of whether malpractice occurred. Angry relatives set up mourning halls inside hospital waiting areas, burn funeral money and hang banners and wreaths, demanding that the hospitals assume responsibility for the death and provide monetary compensation.