‘Imprisoned with her’: Plight of desperate Chinese man who cares full-time for suicidal wife with incurable disease prompts online euthanasia debate

52-year-old woman who can only move her eyes due to a rare neurological disorder is entirely dependent on her husband. Her situation became so desperate that she even offered to pay a friend to ‘help’ end her life. — SCMP

The case of a terminally-ill woman in China who is so desperate to die that she has offered others money to end her life has sparked sympathy and an emotional discussion about euthanasia on mainland social media.

Li Xiaozhong, 52, from Hunan province in central China, was diagnosed with the rare neurological disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, in January 2019, according to online news portal ThePaper.cn.

ALS, which is also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, leads to progressive muscle atrophy and respiratory failure, ultimately resulting in the death of most patients within three to five years.

Li is currently confined to a wheelchair and can only move her eyes. She is entirely dependent on her husband, Shen Shijun, for her daily care and needs.

Shen has been caring for her since October 2020, taking on responsibilities such as giving her water, helping her rinse her mouth and feeding her, according to the report.

During each meal, he uses chopsticks to place food onto her teeth since her tongue can no longer move.

Li Xiaozhong can only move her eyes and is entirely dependent on her husband to get through the day and night. Photo: 6do.world

He also massages her after meals, which has resulted in him suffering calluses and joint pain.

Despite his devotion, Shen expressed dismay at the situation.

“Her situation has brought our family to its breaking point,” he told ThePaper.cn, adding that he felt like he was “imprisoned” with his wife.

The disease has driven Li to try to take her own life by, for example, fasting, taking sleeping pills and even hiring others help her do it.

Her last attempt occurred in May, when she enlisted the help of a friend and agreed to pay him 34,000 yuan (US$4,700) to suffocate her.

However, her friend could not go through with the act and only lightly covered her mouth, causing her to temporarily lose consciousness, according to the report.

“I really can’t bring myself to do this. If we were enemies, it might be different. But we are friends. I just can’t do it,” her friend said via WeChat, according to screenshots published by the news site.

Li reached such a low point that she even enlisted the “help” of a friend to help her take her own life. Photo: 6do.world

Li’s story has triggered intense discussions about euthanasia on mainland social media.

“We should legalise euthanasia so that seriously ill patients have the choice to leave with dignity, without adding burdens to their families and society,” one commenter said.

“Some people are actually in pain, and the law should consider the feelings of these people,” another agreed.

However, others pointed out the potential pitfalls of legalising euthanasia.

“If euthanasia is legalised, some people who don’t want to die may be forced into it by their families to relieve the burden,” said one online observer.

Another said: “Even if euthanasia is legalised, many people still won’t be able to afford it.”

In China, where euthanasia is not legally permitted, physical suffering and family burdens sometimes lead terminal patients to resort to extreme measures.

In 2017, a bedridden woman in eastern China’s Zhejiang province who was suffering from various conditions committed suicide by swallowing rat poison with the help of her husband, daughter and son-in-law.

In subsequent legal proceedings, her husband and son-in-law were sentenced to three years in prison with a five-year probation period while her daughter was sentenced to two years imprisonment suspended for three years. – South China Morning Post

Those suffering from problems can reach out to the Mental Health Psychosocial Support Service at 03-2935 9935 or 014-322 3392; Talian Kasih at 15999 or 019-261 5999 on WhatsApp; Jakim’s (Department of Islamic Development Malaysia) family, social and community care centre at 0111-959 8214 on WhatsApp; and Befrienders Kuala Lumpur at 03-7627 2929 or go to befrienders.org.my/centre-in-malaysia for a full list of numbers nationwide and operating hours, or email sam@befrienders.org.my.

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