Priced out of life: the patients who chose to die
At least 5 wanted to spare families the cost of keeping them alive, from HK$2,500 a month
At least five patients who needed breathing equipment at home to keep them alive have opted to die in the past year to spare their families the financial burden of renting or buying the apparatus, says a group that campaigns for the rights of the disabled.
The Neuro-Muscular Disease Association said the tragedies were the result of limited funding options. It wants the government to step in to provide more help.
For those receiving Comprehensive Social Security Assistance, the government subsidises the cost of respiratory support equipment, but those not on welfare must fend for themselves.
There are no official figures on how many patients need the machine at home, but the group estimates there are about 500. Its chairman, Raymond Lau Wai-ming, said about 50 of its members used the machines.
The equipment costs between HK$2,500 and HK$8,000 a month. Nine out of 10 patients choose to rent instead of buy as maintenance is costly and complicated.
"Money should never be part of the reason," Lau said. "But in reality, money has been a major decision-maker for them."
There is currently one private fund - the Yan Chai Tetraplegic Fund - offering regular monthly subsidies to support the rental of respiratory equipment. Others, such as the Samaritan Fund, offer only one-off payments.
Lau said many patients applied to three or four funds a year to cover medical expenses.
The matter got more complicated when the Community Care Fund (CCF) announced a subsidy scheme to help non-welfare recipients pay for respiratory machines, sparking concern charity funding might shrink as a result.
To qualify for the CCF's HK$2,500 monthly subsidy, applicants need to be under the age of 60 and have an annual household disposable income of no more than HK$180,000.
CCF chairman Law Chi-kwong said the fund's mission was to run pilot welfare schemes that may then be adopted by the government.
Lau said the government should be shouldering the responsibility now. "The number of severely disabled people is small, and our society doesn't lack in money. It won't cost the government a lot," he said.