Friday, October 29, 1999

China’s suppression
of Falun Gong sect

Bullet The issue: The Chinese government has renewed its crackdown on the Falun Gong movement.

Bullet Our view: The crackdown makes a mockery of the regime's pretense that it respects human rights.

It seems appropriate that Halloween is approaching as the Chinese Communist government renews its own witch hunt -- the suppression of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong. The regime calls it a "devil cult" and vows it will be shown "no mercy."

Members of Falun Gong held a news conference on the run from police to describe abuse at the hands of the Chinese authorities. One displayed wrists bruised by manacles; another told how police baited her while burning her face with an electric baton; an 11-year-old said he was expelled from school for his beliefs.

Hundreds of Falun Gong members converged on Tiananmen Square in Beijing yesterday for the fourth day to renew a quiet vigil. Police tried to ferret out the members from the tourists who crowded the square, detaining at least 20 people. One group of mostly older women was packed into a minibus.

In keeping with other protests this week in the square, Falun Gong members did not shout slogans or make any other overt acts of protest. But the low-key demonstrations marked the most public confrontation between Falun Gong members and police since the government banned the group in July.

The fact that arrests were made despite the absence of any acts of protest is a measure of the government's determination to crush the movement.

Falun Gong combines traditional Chinese slow-motion exercises and meditation with ideas from Buddhism and Taoism. Although it is obviously innocuous, the regime of President Jiang Zemin became alarmed when Falun Gong staged a mass demonstration last April to protest what it called persecution. The government has since launched a full-scale campaign to discredit the sect. Group members chose the square to demonstrate opposition to a proposed law cracking down on Falun Gong that is being reviewed by the executive committee of the national legislature, meeting in the Great Hall of the People next to Tiananmen.

An editorial in People's Daily, the Communist Party's most authoritative newspaper, called Falun Gong "an evil cult" and claimed that it was responsible for the deaths of 1,400 people. It charged that the sect's founder, Li Hongzhi, now living in the United States, had claimed to be the only person who could save the world from destruction -- which he denies. Earlier the government accused Falun Gong organizers of stealing and disclosing government secrets.

These hysterical charges reflect the regime's refusal to accept the existence of any organization it does not control with a following in Chinese society -- even one with no political agenda except the right to function without interference.

The government's behavior makes a mockery of its pretense that it respects human rights. This is a witch hunt, Chinese-Communist style.

Assisted suicide

Bullet The issue: The U.S. House has passed legislation that would make physician-assisted suicide a crime.

Bullet Our view: States should be allowed to adopt physician-assisted suicide laws without federal interference.

AS states begin to adopt policies on the sensitive issue of physician-assisted suicide, opponents in Congress are trying to usurp their authority to do so. The House has adopted a bill that would bar doctors from using federally controlled drugs to aid in suicides, effectively prohibiting the practice. The bill should be defeated so the issue can be left in the hands of the states.

Oregon is the only state to legalize physician-assisted suicide of patients with less than six months to live, first by initiative in 1994 and again in 1997 when voters rejected a proposal to repeal the law. Congress responded in 1997 by enacting legislation prohibiting the use of federal funds for physician-assisted suicide. Unlike the current House bill, it did not interfere with states formulating their own policies.

Attorney General Janet Reno decided last year that the Drug Enforcement Administration does not have legal authority to arrest or revoke the licenses of doctors in Oregon who provide lethal doses of medicine for the terminally ill. That decision prompted the current legislation aimed at making doctor-assisted suicide a federal crime.

In an attempt to make the bill seem palatable, sponsors included a provision that would encourage doctors to ease the pain of dying patients. However, federal authorities presumably would be empowered to determine a doctor's intentions.

The U.S. Supreme Court has observed that "painkilling drugs may hasten a patient's death, but the physician's purpose and intent is, or may be, only to ease his patient's pain." Should that line of intent be drawn by a federal drug agent?

Oregon Gov. John A. Kitzhaber, a practicing physician, concludes that the legislation would create "a less-than-benign process of intimidation, threat or significant professional risk to practicing physicians attempting to alleviate the pain and suffering of terminally ill patients."

Hawaii legislators rejected proposals this year to legalize physician-assisted suicide and physician-assisted death, with appropriate safeguards.

The Star-Bulletin's contributing editor, A.A. Smyser, has been a leading advocate of such legislation and has written frequently on the subject in his column. We share his belief that such laws are needed to relieve suffering. Preemptive action by Congress would interfere not only with states' rights to deal with the issue but also with the choices of terminally ill patients.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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