The sanctity of life is not a laughing matter, including the life of a prisoner, whose imprisonment should not be considered a deprivation of his or her basic rights. In the case of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), his medical rights are in jeopardy. Regrettably, however, reports of Chen’s deteriorating health suggest President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his government have not been taking the life of the nation’s former head of state seriously.
Chen, serving a 17-and-a-half-year prison term on corruption charges, was sent to Taoyuan General Hospital on Tuesday last week for a check-up and returned to Taipei Prison that same afternoon, before being rushed to the hospital the following night after complaining of pain when urinating. After Chen underwent an extended examination, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test found a 4mm by 4mm trace of a cerebral vascular accident in his right frontal lobe.
At the invitation of Chen’s family, a further study of the MRI images by a group of physicians, including Taipei Veterans General Hospital physician Kuo Cheng-deng (郭正典), Taipei General Hospital vice president Kuo Chang-feng (郭長豐) and Mackay Memorial Hospital psychiatrist Chen Chiao-chi (陳喬琪), suggested Chen Shui-bian has not only one, but several traces of cerebral vascular accidents in his right frontal lobe.
Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊), who suffered a minor stroke in 2007 herself, said after visiting Chen Shui-bian on Tuesday that she was most disturbed by his obvious speech difficulties. Noting that stuttering can be caused by brain damage, National Taiwan University Hospital physician Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) yesterday suggested that Chen might develop dementia if he fails to receive proper medical attention.
All the reports pointing to the former president’s deteriorating physical and mental state beg the question: How credible has the Taipei Prison been in its statements time and time again dismissing the public’s concern for his health? It is little wonder there is growing public speculation questioning whether the Ma administration is placing political considerations above Chen Shui-bian’s human rights.
Ma has taken pride in his efforts to protect human rights, giving himself a pat on the back several times, trumpeting how it was under his watch that the nation signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2009.
Ma should revisit the two covenants and practice what he preaches. In particular, he should look up the first clause in the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ Part III, Article 6, which states: “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” He should also look at the first clause in Article 10, which states: “All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.”
Ma may also want to remember that Article 58 of the Prison Act (監獄行刑法) stipulates that a prison administration may apply to have a prisoner given medical parole or sent to an outside hospital for treatment if the prison cannot provide adequate treatment.
A fair number of people have been quick to dismiss the Chen family’s pleas for medical parole, taunting the family and physicians for exaggerating Chen Shui-bian’s ailments and ridiculing him for “faking it.”