Sun, May 04, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Cheers to new SARS legislation

On Friday, the Legislative Yuan passed a bill to prevent and control the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), demonstrating that the ruling and opposition camps do have their priorities straight at this critical juncture in the country's history. Everyone agrees that the coming weeks will reveal whether the spread of the epidemic will escalate beyond control or be contained. Can the newly enacted regulations help stop the unthinkable? No one knows just yet. In any event, these regulations do constitute sincere efforts to address some important issues.

One noteworthy part of the new regulations is the so-called "Chen Ching-chiu (陳靜秋) clause," under which the families of those who gave their lives to prevent and control the SARS epidemic will receive monetary compensation of at least NT$2.91 million. Moreover, the government will finance the education of the children of these martyrs until college.

Chen was a chief nurse at the Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital (台北和平醫院) who passed away Thursday after becoming infected with SARS herself while taking care of SARS patients. As the first medical personnel to sacrifice her life, Chen's death naturally brought a lot of mixed feelings.

Her professionalism and dedication truly deserve the recognition and admiration of all. So, all the efforts to honor and commemorate her, including the decision to give Chen a place in the Martyrs Shrine (忠烈祠) are appropriate.

But one cannot help but think of more pragmatic issues. How many more such frontline losses must be endured before victory is realized in this battle? Unfortunately, more could be on the way. How will this impact the morale of all those medical personnel?

Under the circumstances, the "Chen Ching-chiu clause" is certainly praiseworthy. At least now, those working with SARS patients know that their loved ones will be taken care of if they should succumb to the atypical pneumonia, allowing them to focus on the battle at hand.

The clause has a wide scope, applicable to families of doctors, nurses, volunteer workers and any other personnel who perform duties to prevent and control the epidemic. This is a very important feature of the clause. Families of government employees, such as Chen Ching-chiu who worked for a municipal hospital, and members of the military are covered by the relevant civil servant and military personnel pension laws to begin with. But a vast number of individuals from the private sector, most notably doctors and nurses of private hospitals, are also serving important roles in the battle against the disease.

Another clause of the special regulations is a no-less human touch. According to the clause, the integrity and legal rights of SARS patients must be respected and protected. No discrimination against them is allowed. In view of the irrational behavior shown by the public out of their ignorance surrounding the ailment, this is indeed a badly needed clause.

The most glaring example is the case of a couple, surnamed Tsao (), who had been labeled by the media as the "the super-spreaders (超級感染者)" for having allegedly infected a lot of people. Reportedly, the couple and their sons have since faced hostile and discriminatory treatment from their neighbors and friends up to the point that the neighboring vendors won't even sell food to them. The wife has allegedly attempted suicide as a result of all the hostility. Similar incidents have occurred to other SARS patients and their families.

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