Give Me Back My Final Right

In this previous post, I was singing the high praises for Li Datong's The Story of Freezing Point.  I told you this was less about news stories than the process by which certain stories were gathered and written.  In the following, I have translated pages 100-102 about a story on euthanasia.  If I promised that I will translate all 398 pages before I quit, then I only have 395 pages left to go.  

However, this is not easy stuff to translate, in a different sense than usual.  You read through the story and you will see that everyone (interviewee, editor, reporter) was crying his/her eyes out.  In this case, this translator was also crying his eyes out as he typed in the sentences.

[in translation]

For Wang Weijun's second Freezing Point report, she chose the topic of euthanasia.  I concur with this because I am a firm supporter of euthanasia myself.  But such a report will have to be compellingly persuasive.

Wang Weijun visited many hospitals and learned a great deal.  Overall, the material was sufficient.  However, a long feature article does not have the moral force to touch people without an extremely touching and real case study.  During the news gathering process, every prospective interviewee refused due to the lack of legal protection or social understanding.  Even anonymity did not help.

So we asked around.  Finally, from an editor friend, I heard about an alleged case.  So we asked him to get one of the family members to come down to our newspaper office.  In late February 1995, a female editor Zhang Kejia at our newspaper brought a female into my office and said: "This is the story about her younger sister."

By coincidence, Wang Weijun was out of the office that day.  Since the interviewee was so hard to find, we could not let this chance pass.  Thus, I had to act as the temporary reporter.

She was a refined-looking middle-aged woman who seemed to have a high degree of self-control.  But after a few sentences, she began to cry.  This was a human tragedy that I have never heard before about how someone "personally" took the life of a relative.  The story was about her younger sister.

Her younger sister was inflicted with a rare form of cancer.  Chemotherapy was useless.  Her younger sister had just reached 32 years, she enjoyed life, she had a loving husband and a lovely boy.

When the siblings found out that the younger sister was in the last stage of this cancer, they discussed among themselves and decided not to tell their parents or even the younger sister herself.  They were quite successful, and they even specifically prepared a fake set of medical history.  When every effort by Chinese and western doctor failed, the disease took a turn for the worse and the cancer spread into the lungs.  The bottom of the lungs were calcified like solid rock.  The calcification was now moving upwards.  In the end, the lungs would turn into two solid chunks of rock and she would suffocate to death.  At the time, she was in an extremely painful stage as if someone was strangling her.  She could not lie down . She could not even sit.  Instead, she must lean her body forward at a certain angle in order to breathe.

The younger sister was a nurse who was meticulous about cleanliness.  By this time, she was not longer capable of handling her bodily functions.  These physical and psychological pains caused her to make up her mind to leave.

The younger sister turned in her will to the organization.  After discussion, the hospital rejected the younger sister's request for euthanasia because there was no legal basis for euthanasia as yet.  The younger sister was extremely disappointed.  One night, she told her elder sister: "I want you to do something.  I know you can do it."  She was not pleading.  She was issuing an order.

The elder sister could no longer refuse her request.  Every extra minute was a prolongation of the younger sister's painful ordeal.  So the elder sister got on a taxi cab and visited all the hospitals in the city and the suburbs to attempt to get enough tranquilizers from friends.  The friends understood, but no one dared to accept the responsibility.  Finally, the elder sister got down on her knees in front of a pharmacy director, lied that it was for her parents and got several boxes of tranquilizers.

At midnight on a certain day, there was silence in the hospital.  The younger sister called everyone to her side and told everyone individually: "Goodbye forever!  I thank you for your care and help ... do not cry ... do not say goodbye to me with crying."

They did not want to cause trouble for the hospital and the doctors, so they decided to act themselves.  The elder sister was a doctor.  She took the thick syringe and approached the younger sister.  But her hands were trembling and she really could not go through with the injection.  Finally, it was the husband of the younger sister who injected the tranquilizer into the vein.

"I am tired ... I want to sleep," the younger sister looked at the husband peacefully.  "You hold me ..."  She laid in the arms of her husband and then fell into a deep coma.

About ten minutes later, the ward director came in to inspect.  The family members hurriedly tried to put on the various intravenous feeds back into the younger sister.  The medical specialist stopped them, and then checked the vital signs of the younger sister.  Then he said: "Let her lie down."  He totally understood what had just happened.  The director walked towards the door, stopped and turned around to say: "I can really understand, I can really understand ..."

So the younger sister departed painlessly.  This was her personal wish, but it was her family that carried it out ...

During the interview, my eyes were watering repeatedly.  On the side, Kejia was a total mess with her crying.  All I heard was the sound of the teardrops falling down on her notebook.  Early on in the interview, she had already lost the ability to record anything.  But I was a man and I was a reporter at that moment.  I had to ask all the questions that my profession demanded of me, and I must exhibit a high degree of calmness.

When the interview was completed, the elder sister said: "The will of my younger sister is in the urn of her ashes.  Only her husband has seen the original document.  I thought that I should tell the story now.  It was not a sin because it will be a contribution for social and human progress.  I agree to tell the story of my younger sister to you because I hope that people who have terminal diseases should not have as difficult a death as my younger sister.  Family members should not be forced to terminate the lives of their loved ones -- this is most inhumane!"

The next day, Wang Weijun came in.  I said: "There is no choice now.  I will narrate this section and you can write it up."

This was the most difficult piece of 'writing' that I have done in my entire life.   I had to say it out and when I reached the critical parts, I could not help but get emotional.  I had lumps in my throat several times and I had to pause.  Wang Weijun sat with her back to me, and said nothing as she waited.  I knew that she was crying non-stop.

When we asked the photographers in the Photography Department to find related photographs, their director He Yanguang said: "There is no need to shoot any photographs.  I have one myself."  That was a photograph of his mother near the time of her death, and his young son was by the grandmother's side.  He Yanguang personally wrote the explanation for that photograph:

There was no possible hope for curing my mother's illness.  During those days, she would moan in her semi-conscious state: "I am in pain!  I don't want to live!"  I watched my mother being tortured day and night.  I thought many times about euthanasia for her, but I had no 'means.'  I could only watch with my own eyes my mother took her final breath after prolonged extreme suffering.

This particular article was titled "Give Me Back My Final Right -- Concerning Euthanasia."  The reader response was surprisingly one-sided.  Even many newspaper editors said that they cried while they read it.  This incident occurred in Beijing.  But to protect the family of the "younger sister," we placed it to "a certain city in southern China" in our report.

Many years have passed, but this article is still the most powerful one that I have seen supporting euthanasia.  The touching individual case blended almost perfectly with the rational investigation.

In 2001, there was a big debate at our newspaper's forum about whether euthanasia should be allowed.  One side was determinedly opposed to it, because they believed that "dying easy is not as good as living hard."  When I saw that the supporters of euthanasia were losing the debate, I got mad.  I went through the file cabinet and retrieved the disk on which the article was stored.  I posted the article onto the forum.  Within a short time, those opponents of euthanasia went silent.  The person who was their leader declared that he "has changed his thinking" and now supported euthanasia.  He said that he has posted this article onto other websites .  This shows how powerful the article was.