For Tang Siu-pun, a small measure of happiness after years of despair

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 December, 2012, 7:15am

After an accident left him paralysed in his 20s, Tang Siu-pun sank into despair and thought constantly about taking his own life. But in his unsuccessful battle for the legalisation of euthanasia, he found some measure of purpose in living, he once said, and his courage became an inspiration to Hongkongers.

Tang, better known as Ah Bun, who died yesterday at age 43, was practising for a gymnastics event in 1991 when he fell badly and injured his spine. The accident left him paralysed from the neck down.

In 2003, using a stick held in his mouth to type, he made an appeal to then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, asking for euthanasia to be legalised. "Time has become meaningless for me. I look at the clock ticking second after second every single day and what am I waiting for? It's just the moment when death comes," he wrote in the letter.

The request was turned down, but his case lead to widespread debate over issues involving the right to die.

Tang's appeal caught the attention of Professor Stephen Hawking when the famed cosmologist visited the city in 2006.

Hawking - confined to a wheelchair himself after developing motor neurone disease when he was 21 - said it would have been a "great mistake" if Tang had ended his life, adding "while there's life, there is hope".

In 2007, Tang wrote the autobiographical I Want Euthanasia, in which he argued for the right to die in peace and with dignity. "If everyone cannot escape death, then why can't they [at least] make their last choice before they die?" he wrote in the preface.

His father wrote a note of encouragement in the preface, saying Tang was not alone and his family was always there to offer their full support.

"Don't look down on yourself. People can generate infinite possibilities," his father wrote.

Three years after the book was published, Tang left the Queen Mary Hospital ward where he had lived for 19 years and moved into a Sham Shui Po flat.

With family, friends, and the public supporting him, he grew more positive in his outlook. "I still support euthanasia. But I do not want it for myself now. I feel I have a lot of things to do," he said.

Social security, donations and income from a column he wrote for a newspaper gave him enough to get by.

Lawmaker Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, who knew Tang for many years, said he was saddened by his death but believed Tang was at peace.

"It's a relief for him. He has lived his life to the fullest," Cheung said.